“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” – Blaise Pascal (mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, philosopher, and theologian)
Even the man who takes his own life does so in the pursuit of his own happiness. It is the driving force behind everything you do. So pleasure isn’t the problem, nor is the pursuit of pleasure. So, what do we do with what King Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes then? What do we do with Solomon, who pursues pleasure with all his might and then comes back and says, “Well, you can pursue it if you want, but it’s meaningless. It’s all just chasing the wind, trying to hold onto oil with your bare hands.”
Well, C.S. Lewis can help us out a little bit here. One of his most famous quotes is, “I didn’t come to God to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port could do that.” And then there’s also this one, “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics….”
(Immanuel Kant was a philosopher who basically taught that to the level in which you enjoyed something, you lessened its virtue. So essentially, according to Kant, it is more virtuous for a husband to hate his wife but stay with her because of commitment than it is for him to love his wife and love being with her. So, his idea was pretty much that it is more virtuous for a husband to deplore the very existence of his wife, but because of his vow, stay with her than it is for him to love her with his whole heart. Kant really needed a hug. Anyways, I digress…)
“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”
So God, according to C.S. Lewis, doesn’t look at us and go, “I can’t believe they’re seeking their own pleasure,” but He looks at us and goes, “They’re not seeking hard enough.” Now, this is the big famous part of this quote, “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
When sin entered the world and fractured it, Paul says in Romans 1, that what happened is that you and I exchanged the infinite creator God for His creation. And when that took place, we began to settle for temporary fleeting pleasures rather than what is eternal and soul satisfying.
Paul summarizes what sin does to all of us in 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Sin turns us in on ourselves. Sin makes us shrink our lives to the narrow confines of our own little self-defined world. Sin causes us to shrink our focus, motivation, and concern to the size of our own wants, needs, and feelings. Sin causes all of us to be way too self-aware and self-important in our own eyes. Sin causes us to be offended most by offenses against us and to be concerned most for what concerns us. Sin causes us to dream selfish dreams and to plan self-oriented plans. Because of sin, we really do love us, and we have a wonderful plan for our own lives.
What all this means is that sin is essentially antisocial. We don’t really have time to love others, in the purest sense of what that means, because we are too busy loving ourselves. What we actually want is for others to love us as much as we love ourselves, and if they were willing to do that, we will all have a wonderful relationship. So we try to co-op our friends and family into willing submission to the plans and purposes of our claustrophobic kingdom of one.
Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo said it this way when he experienced the joy of knowing God, “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose… You drove them from me… You, who are the true, the Sovereign Joy! You drive them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, who You outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any of the secrets in our heart. You who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see honor in themselves. Oh Lord, my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation… You who are sweeter than all earthly pleasures…”
Let me try to explain it to you this way. All frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. Ten years ago, you had in your mind this picture of what you wanted life to look like ten years from then, and you thought that if you could obtain it or get to it, you would be happy and satisfied. If you could just obtain this or that, or be here or be there, if you made it to this point, you’d be satisfied and content; because your real god is what you most effortlessly think about, and you were probably chasing after something finite. And so, for the last ten years you have put all your energy, and whether you did this consciously or subconsciously, you did this to get somewhere. If you’re type A, then you probably even wrote it down in your little Moleskine planner and mapped it all out, what you had to do every day to get there.
Most of us just thought, “Man, if I could just get out of school, if I could get a good job, if I could find a husband/wife, if I could have children, if I could make enough money to go on vacation, if I could get a car that actually ran half the time, if I could afford a house, if I could afford a bigger house, if I could do this, if I could get that, etc…” And so we began to work that ten-year plan. Now, the reality is, if you’ve met those goals, you probably might not even know it because you’ve already replaced that ten-year plan with a new ten-year plan because what you thought would satisfy you, has not. And so, what happens is, you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you will die, and be painted up like a clown, and be put in the ground. That’s it.
And almost all of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have bought into the philosophy that what we need to finally make us happy is more of what we already posses, and it’s madness. It’s why we shop, why we buy things we don’t need, why we work extra, why we work less, why we watch certain movies and television shows, why we fantasize about things that are not reality. You don’t buy out of need, you buy out of boredom. Most people don’t buy a new vehicle because theirs blew up, got stolen, or they had a wreck. I mean, just listen to people talk sometimes. It’s insanity. Well, I had to get the oil changed and it needed all new tires, and that’s like at least $500-something. I’m not wasting that kind of cash on that old piece, I’m just going to get a new car. You don’t buy clothes because yours are absolutely done. Really, you don’t. Almost nobody reading this has gone, “Oh, I can’t wear my jeans at all anymore. They’ve completely disintegrated.” Instead, we go and buy new jeans that have already been partially disintegrated for $90. And I admit make stupid purchases too. I’m not saying there’s you and then there’s me. I’m saying “we.” And it is outright evidence that we live boring, predictable lives, and we try to numb it and turn it off by acquisition. But in Ecclesiastes, king Solomon is going, “Hey man, I did it all. I did it bigger and better than you’ll ever do. I had more money, more success, more sex, worked more, relaxed more, partied more, partied harder, I did it all. Here’s the deal. It’s all meaningless.”
Okay, so why? Why is this happening? Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity into our hearts. Now, this is going to be an abstract idea, so please try to follow me. Because I don’t know how to fully explain this to you, but I believe it with all my heart and I believe that Scripture contends that this is correct. What the text means when it says that God has placed eternity into our hearts, is that at some level, in the deepest parts of our souls, our souls remember, however that happens, what life was like before the Fall. So, the soul, at some really deep level, has had this groove cut into it, where it remembers what it was like before sin entered into the world. And so, we remember, at a really deep level now, that at one time, we were full and at one time, we were happy and at one time, there was nothing weighing us down. And the soul is groaning, according to Scripture, to get back there.
The problem is, the groove is shaped like eternity and all that we have to fill it with is temporary. And so, we cram it with temporary, fleeting false joys, and it never fills it. And so, we think if it gets bigger, if we can make it bigger, the temporary pleasure lasts a little bit longer; or if we continue to get a little bit larger, we can finally fill the chasm. But it’s never going to take place because it’s not going to be big enough. And here’s why I’m afraid for you, afraid for us. King Solomon finally gets to the end of his goal to find ultimate pleasure and says it’s all vanity, it’s all meaningless, and you do not posses the resources to ever get there. And so, my fear for you, my fear for so many of us, is that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives chasing our tails, chasing what we already posses, that has brought us no lasting happiness, only to die on the treadmill of a false reality, never being content, or truly happy.
I’ll quote C.S. Lewis again here, because he just really had some great, insightful thoughts on all of this. Lewis said, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that real thing. God is after His glory, for our joy, even when we can’t see how in the moment. Our joy is not the purpose of the Gospel, but an inevitable outcome of it. Because if it is true that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him, then He definitely is for our joy. God is all about His glory, and the chief end of man is to enjoy God, and enjoy Him forever.