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The pursuit of happiness

January 16, 2018 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

For the first two months of 2018, I will be using this space to interact with “This is our time” by Trevin Wax, a book that appeared on many “Best of” Christian book lists of 2017. In this book, Wax looks at the myths our culture teaches us, affirms the good longings underneath those myths, and then challenges those myths with the gospel. I believe this will be a good exercise for us in how to be discerning as we live in our world, so that we might be as Paul exhorted the Ephesian church: “Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

The third chapter of “This is our time” is entitled The North Pole and the Pursuit of Happiness. Wax begins the chapter by telling the story of the first expedition to the North Pole, which ended tragically because the common belief of cartographers (map-makers) at the time was that there was an open polar sea that would make it easy for a ship to reach the North Pole. Wax uses this story to illustrate how having the wrong map can lead to a tragic ending, no matter how sincerely you believe in that map. In the same way, the map of “the good life” given to us by our American culture is leading us tragically astray, whether or not we realize it. As the writer of Proverbs puts it, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Wax gives examples of the maps different people use in our culture in order to reach significance. Some are searching for status, others for satisfaction, and others for self. They recognize rightly that we were made to go somewhere, but they falsely assume that the destination, the significance, can be found here on earth. The most common map in our culture, Wax argues, is that we are told to discover ourselves, to be true to whatever it is we discover, and then to follow our heart wherever it leads. As the American philosopher Charles Taylor put it, we live in the “Age of Authenticity,” where we are taught that “each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority.” Does that ring true to you? Our culture tells us that in order to find happiness and significance, you need to find what is right for you and do it, no matter what anyone else says.

Unfortunately, this map that our culture gives us does not lead us to true happiness and significance. As Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find themselves in You.” The truth is that we were created by God for God, to know Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him forever. Yes, we are searching for significance and longing for true happiness. But our hearts are not a reliable place to search for the answers. As Jeremiah put it, “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, you don’t know yourself well enough to understand your deepest desires, and even if you did, your desires are often wrong! Rather than embracing our deepest desires, we often need to be delivered from them, and instead discover in God what our hearts are truly searching for. As the Psalmist tells us, “delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

The bottom line is that true authenticity is not found in embracing your own desires and ideas of what makes you happy, but in being true to the person God has created you to be in Christ. True significance and happiness are not found in listening to your fallen, sinful heart, but in living in line with your identity as a redeemed child of God, remade in the image of Christ. In the end, our goal in life – our North Pole – is not to discover what makes us happy and pursue that, but to discover God and His will for us, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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