We’ve been chipping away this week at the modern notions of happiness and fulfillment in one’s life. We’ve seen how human beings are created incomplete. We are made for God to be in our lives, in other words. We’ve seen how the pursuit of happiness is actually a selfish and inward focused journey that actually short-circuits true happiness. Happiness is often confused with pleasure, and the Bible word used for “happy” is often better translated as “blessed”. Fulfillment is often also confused with physical things and/or social status in a given situation, when in reality it should be in the working of God’s will in our lives. These were all themes in the messages last Sabbath, and they struck me in particular ways that I wanted to explore and expand upon.
I recently argued that we sometimes get so caught up in the commandments that we also forget that love is an emotion. God wants our heart and our mind. Obedience flows from love, but the reverse does not necessarily apply. The Pharisees were a good example of strict obedience without love. They focused on the effect and not the cause, and so they missed out on both. Without love, they began to actually break the commandments and change them in such a distorted way that Jesus criticized them.
Is happiness real? Yes, of course it is. However, it is an emotion. Just as the English word “love” doesn’t reflect the total reality of “agape” or “charity” (KJV), “happiness” does not reflect the total reality of “barak” or “blessed”. Yet, love is also an action and an attitude. Happiness is, well, just an emotion. It is just a feeling. Emotions don’t last. They are fleeting.
Fulfillment is another story. It is usually longer lasting. It can ebb and flow, however. Fulfillment is not just an emotion, but, like gratitude, is an attitude. Attitudes come from a much deeper source.
However, once fulfilled always fulfilled? I’d say not. Remember, we are trying to fill an infinite hole. The only thing that can truly fill an infinite hole is something else that is infinite? To be truly lasting, then, we must be filling that hole with God’s Spirit.
“But,” some would object, “It’s my life! I will live it the way I want to. I will be fulfilled with what I desire.”
Does God give us free will? Yes, of course. Adam and Eve weren’t robots. They made their choice, and it is unfortunately the case that sin has a ripple effect even upon others we may not even know. We aren’t robots, either. We can choose good or evil. We can even choose the good from the wrong tree.
Does that mean we own our lives, though? I’d say not. We did not create ourselves. We did not ask to be born. In the end, it is God Who will decide who lives and who goes into eternal death. Our very lives are in His hands.
We do not own ourselves.
That’s why the selfish pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, ambition, or whatever else you may want to call it is such a waste of time. It is not all about us. Rather, it is about what God works within us.
This should put into sharper focus Paul’s writings about being a “servant”, or literally a “slave”. We are Christ’s slaves if we obey (cf. Ro 6:15-18). Indeed that is why Paul could write:
1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1, King James Version)
It is “reasonable” to “sacrifice” our “bodies”! And, what is our life without our body? That’s right, nothing. Our very lives should be a reflection of God’s will.
This is very different than the modern notion of “pursuit of happiness” and that being fulfilled is “what I want” and “what I desire”. Because, in the end, it isn’t our life to begin with. God has allowed us to have a life and to make our choices for a short time. Ultimately, if we choose life, we can have life. If we choose death, we will not.
A true Christian’s life is not his or her own. Instead, the true Christian willingly gives it back to God. In return, God allows us to continue in the life devoted to Him and enjoy His fellowship.
What’s left for happiness and fulfillment in light of a future like that?