Monday, October 5, 2009

"I Thought It Would Make Me Happy."

Mark Dreier, a disgraced financier currently serving 20 years in prison for fraud, on why he hatched a $380 million Ponzi scheme that ran for four years beginning in 2004.

I picked up my Time magazine this week and these words just jumped off the 'Verbatim' page at me.

Happy. Happiness. It's kind of weird if you think about it. What is Happiness anyway? Merely a neurological reaction...merely and chemical wash over our brains when we see or feel stuff we like?

Carly has a report due Wednesday on a part of the Revolutionary War. I thought, "If I'm going to help her with this thing, I'd better read up on my history." So I've been reading middle school level Revolutionary War books lately. The Declaration of Independence looms over this whole period of American history. You will of course remember that it states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The pursuit of Happiness. An "unalienable right." The founding fathers said, in essence, "as humans, we have a right, just by being alive, to go after Happiness. Capital "H." A mega-theme of life.

Webster's says happiness is "having, showing or causing great pleasure or joy." Well, I'm most interested here in the "having" part of that definition here. What is it to have happiness? To have great pleasure or joy. I think sometimes we Christians stink at being Christians because some of us make going after pleasure an antithesis to obeying God. We get especially confused when we mis-read verses like 2 Timothy 3:4 where Paul warned that in the last days men would be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." Pleasure -or- we have to choose. If we choose pleasure, if we "pursue Happiness," are we forsaking God? Does God hate pleasure? Or is it possible to go after pleasure and still go after God?

Well, I guess that would depend on the pleasure we are going after.

What if, rather than going after all the cheap counterfeit pleasures that the world has to offer, - counterfeits of cars, counterfeits of houses, counterfeits of iphone apps, counterfeits of plasma tv's.... counterfeits of $380 million - the list could be endless - what if we found a pleasure that could truly satisfy us with a lasting satisfaction AND at the same time find a pleasure, a Happiness, that pleases God too? Godly pleasure. Godly contentment. Godly happiness. Is there such a thing? Could there be such a thing?

Well, if you are still reading this, I'm guessing that maybe you are hoping that there really could be such a Happiness. I'm happy to say that there is. There really is.

I know people hate reading stuff written by dead guys from a long time ago, but just indulge me this one time. In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the very first question is, "What is the chief end of man?" The answer that the student is supposed to give is, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

There you go! What if the greatest pleasure in your life could be to glorify God? And how about this: what if the best way to glorify God could be to enjoy Him forever? (Actually, joy-in-God verses are all throughout scripture. Check these out: Psalm 16:5-11; Psalm 144:15; Luke 2:10; Philippians 4:4 and Revelation 21:3-4.) Are you starting to get an inkling of what this could mean for you? "Enjoy God?" Could that be fun? Or is that an oxymoron.....

John Piper gives this helpful illustration, which I have tweaked here:

Imagine it's Janie's & my anniversary and to surprise Janie, I get a dozen roses and, being the clever guy that I am, go to my own front door and ring the doorbell. She answers the door and with a surprised look sees me and sees the roses and says, "oh, Chris, why did you?" And I reply flatly, "It's my duty." You laugh, knowing that I'm a dead man. Not the response that the beloved wife wants to hear.

So next anniversary I try again: Roses, check. Doorbell, check. The surprised look. "Oh, Chris, why did you?" "Janie, I just had to get you flowers! I love you so go get some fancy clothes on, baby, cuz' I'm takin' you out! Nothing would make me happier tonight than to be with YOU!"

Ca-ching! Yes! High five! Nice job, Chris!

Why the difference in reaction? Why is that a slam dunk when I said that "nothing would make ME happier" than being with her? Doesn't that make me a selfish jerk, to go after my own happiness?

Here's the answer: my being satisfied by Janie ('nothing would make me happier')...glorifies Janie! It makes her look good when I find my happiness in her, right?

And so much more with God. "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Perhaps we could tweak what the writers of the Catechism wrote and say "Man's chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever." Don't you see that if we can experience this shift in our point of view (kind of like Copernicus, who discovered back in the day that the Sun, not the Earth is the center of the Solar System), our concept of how to get happy could change as well. Imagine what life could look like if we could loose our white knuckle grasp of all the junk that the world tells us should mean so much, and stop shoving God to the periphery of our affections and get Him to the Center where He belongs....well, if that God really wants us to be giving us Himself...well, that's life-changing, paradigm-shifting stuff right there.

Maybe this resonates with you. Maybe you are feeling like something inside you is longing for something you've tried the world's version of 'Happy' and have found it lacking.

May I suggest you have a look at John Piper's book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist or at least read up on Christian Hedonism at the Desiring God website?

Maybe some day I'll blog about how I almost drove off the road as I listened to a sermon about this very thing. It rocked my world and changed my outlook about God, me, and God-and-me forever.

Maybe Marc Dreier will pursue true Happiness (his name is Jesus) as well. I just hope he won't be driving when he does...


  1. Chris,'re not a dead guy yet, eh? Well, you and I both know it will happen some day and what a glorious day it will be for you. In the meantime I trust God will revel in your Happiness in Him and the rest of us will benefit from your example.

    As for the "Pursuit of Happiness" phrase from the Declaration of Independence, I was discussing this with some one the other day and he asserted that the phrase actually was intended to have something to do with property. Now, I haven't taken the time to look it up, but I found this quote from Calvin Coolidge that shed some perspective on my discussion:

    "Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing."

    Now, I realize I digress from the main thrust of your post, but I thought Carly could use that in her report on the Revolutionary War. :)

    As for Marc Dreier (other than having a really cool first name - spelled properly, to boot), I hope that the people of our country mistake his claim to happiness as the type of happiness intended by the Declaration of Independence and certainly not the type of capital "H" happiness found in Jesus Christ.

    I pray that today you will see the goodness of the Lord.

  2. I think Marc Dreier was deceived (by the culture, Satan, whatever)into thinking that pursuing 'stuff' (famous artist's paintings, fancy cars, $380 million) would make him Happy. At least, that's how I read his quote. The "I thought..." seems to reveal that maybe he is seeing that he was wrong. That's a courtroom chalk drawing of him by the way...he's going to jail.

    I hope that he (and countless others just like him) will discover the only source of true Happiness. So perhaps one day the quote could be changed to, "I have found true Happiness in Jesus."