Pastors Report - 4 May 2018
pursuitOfHappiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

"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." (From the Preamble of the U.S. Declaration of Independence)

The Problem with "Pursuit":

It sounds so innocuous: "The Pursuit of Happiness" – presented within the very preamble of the Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right of all mankind that is deemed to be self-evident – yet within those few short words lies much of the answer as to why there is so little happiness found in the world today. First of all, about the only "right" any of us have earned is the right to death! (Genesis 2:17) And secondly, it's not only that the definition of what we think would make us truly happy invariably differs from one person to another, but that the moment any of us tries to GET happiness – pursue it – we find ourselves going along a path that is totally opposite to the direction in which it actually lies. And it is this profound spiritual anomaly that Jesus Christ makes abundantly clear within the pages of Scripture:

  • Don't judge, and you won't be judged. Don't condemn, and you won't be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
  • Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion — packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing — will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.(Luke 6:37-38, CEB)

So if any of us fervently desires happiness – and who doesn't? – the only route to finding it in a truly lasting way, is to live the kind of life that GIVES happiness to others. As the New Living Translation puts it: "the amount you give will determine the amount you get back". And this profound principle applies to all facets of life: ... from judging others in mercy ... to the acquisition of material goods ... to finding lasting happiness: "give, and it shall be given unto you ... for with the same measure that ye meet withal it shall be measured to you again" .

Lucifer:

We can see the truth of this profound spiritual incongruity writ large by Lucifer himself in the recorded annals of prehistory, when he decided to turn his back on God's loving Law and Government and chose instead to pursue happiness – his own happiness – entirely in his own way.

  • How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
  • For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
  • I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
  • Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15)

Having his mind now totally warped through his own selfish choices, it is interesting to note how in Matthew 4, the temptations he laid before Christ were focused on his own way of GET to one degree or another: ... alleviation of physical hunger, personal aggrandisement, and the lure of incredible power. No way could he understand how Christ would reject the kind of "happiness" he was offering Him. He was unable to grasp the different spirit in operation - one that is alien to him and to the world at large. For as Mr Armstrong explains: Satan's way of doing things – of selfishly pursuing whatever he wants, regardless of the will of God or the long-term consequences to others – has been eagerly swallowed by mankind also, and the unhappy result in man is identical to Lucifer's own ancient, ongoing misery:

God’s government regulates the WAY OF LIFE of those ruled by it. The WAY is “GIVE” – but Lucifer rebelled and chose the way of “GET.” For Adam or any human to QUALIFY to RESTORE God’s government over the earth, that human would have to reject Satan’s way of “GET” and accept and choose GOD’S WAY of “LOVE.” Adam had that chance.

Before Adam in the Garden of Eden were two symbolic trees. One, the tree of life, symbolized receiving God’s Holy Spirit, which Adam so sorely needed. But first Adam had to REJECT Satan’s way of “GET” and that was represented by the tree of the KNOWLEDGE of GOOD AND EVIL. Satan wanted to remain on that throne in POWER over the earth. HE DID! He got to Adam by deceiving his wife Eve!

The one who replaces Satan on that throne over the whole earth must be one who will never – NEVER – NEVER turn against God’s law of LOVE – God’s WAY of “GIVE” – but must rule people IN living in that way that will CAUSE universal PEACE, happiness, joy, abundance!

Satan is the most UNhappy, discontented, resentful, embittered, spiritually MISERABLE personage anywhere in the vast universe! Satan caused Adam and Eve to make themselves UNhappy, living the WAY that produces sorrow, pain, suffering, anguish, discontent, resentment, bitterness, anger, desire to “GET” from others and make others UNhappy. ( Billions Not Being Judged? – And Still Not Lost? – GN Jan 1981)

Hedonism:

The PURSUIT of happiness by humanity takes many and varied forms: Gnosticism is a philosophy found across widely differing religions. At its heart lies the pursuit of "gnosis" – an attempt to gain mystical or esoteric knowledge which supposedly elevates our immortal inner self or soul to a higher/happier spiritual plane. It's claimed this could be accomplished using two divergent techniques: either through the denial of sensual enjoyment – known as asceticism; or through a surfeit of the same, known as hedonism. And both form merely two sides of the same satanic coin – to GET, to accumulate, to have, to possess – in order to elevate and make yourself superior to others.

In today's materialistic Western world – and probably in the ancient world as well – hedonism would undoubtedly be the much preferred route to take! And understandably so as physical delights of all kinds have been made by God for us to enjoy and appreciate – something Scripture certainly backs up, "... because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun." ( Ecclesiastes 8:15)

But Scripture also has much to warn us of the dangers in making the pursuit of physical pleasure our main goal, as physical things simply do not satisfy long term. Even human philosophers have come to recognise this – and have given this anomaly a name: "the paradox of hedonism":

The paradox of hedonism, also called the pleasure paradox, refers to the practical difficulties encountered in the pursuit of pleasure. Unfortunately for the hedonist, constant pleasure-seeking may not yield the most actual pleasure or happiness in the long run—or even in the short run, when consciously pursuing pleasure interferes with experiencing it.

The philosopher Henry Sidgwick was first to note in The Methods of Ethics that the paradox of hedonism is that pleasure cannot be acquired directly ... [for] It is often said that we fail to attain pleasures if we deliberately seek them. This has been described by John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian philosopher, in his autobiography: "But I now thought that this end [one's happiness] was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness ... Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way ... Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." ( Wikipedia – paradox of hedonism)

The Hedonistic life:

Both old and new Testaments support the truth of this paradox of hedonism. Although the parable of the prodigal son is primarily dealing with repentance and forgiveness, what Christ had to say about the younger son – "wasting his substance with riotous living" (Luke 15:13) before eventually coming to his senses regarding his profligate lifestyle – certainly backs up how the paradox of hedonism will cause any attempt at an unbridled pursuit of happiness to fail miserably.

But the greatest experimenter in this area – second to none – was King Solomon and the results of the experiments he conducted in the pursuit of happiness God both recorded and preserved for us all to learn from in the book of Ecclesiastes. Within that book we find many words of wisdom, but there are fundamentally two main conclusions regarding the pursuit of happiness. The first is that basic human happiness is to be found i n the moment – the enjoyment that comes when actually "doing" something – as John Stuart Mill observed, "aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way" . And as Solomon repeatedly points out, it is the happiness found within the work itself that "was his portion":

  • ... for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. (Ecclesiastes 2:10)
  • Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: ... (Ecclesiastes 3:22)
  • Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. (Ecclesiastes 5:18)
  • Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
  • Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
His Key Conclusion:

But there is a second, much more profound spiritual conclusion that Solomon had to admit – something normally only seen once a project is complete and we then look back on it – that mere human happiness through physical accomplishment is itself entirely worthless and empty (translated as vanity in the KJV) within the true scheme of things:

  • But when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had worked so hard to achieve, I realized that it was pointless—a chasing after wind. Nothing is to be gained under the sun.....
  • So I thought to myself, What happens to the fool will also happen to me. So why have I been so very wise? I said to myself, This too is pointless.
  • There is no eternal memory of the wise any more than the foolish, because everyone is forgotten before long. How can the wise die just like the fool?
  • So I hated life, because the things that happen under the sun were troublesome to me. Definitely, everything is pointless—just wind chasing.
  • I hated the things I worked so hard for here under the sun, because I will have to leave them to someone who comes after me.
  • And who knows whether that one will be wise or foolish? Either way, that person will have control over the results of all my hard work and wisdom here under the sun. That too is pointless.
  • I then gave myself up to despair, as I thought about all my laborious hard work under the sun...(Ecclesiastes 2:11,15-20 CEB)

He then closes the book with his final conclusion – after an entire life of hedonistic experiment – that there must be a godly and spiritual dimension for any true happiness in the longer term:

  • Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
  • For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Love of money:

In our own modern materialistic world, success or failure in the pursuit of happiness is often crudely assessed by measuring the size of someone's bank balance. Yet the two key conclusions of Solomon 3000 years ago most certainly still apply. I remember one time talking to a wealthy businessman (a haulage contractor with a fleet of about 80 trucks at the time) who had just come off the phone to his manager. A piston had gone through the crankcase in the engine of one of his trucks totally destroying it and it was going to cost many thousands of pounds to replace. He made the comment to me, that if this had happened when he and his wife were first starting up, it would have finished them. But now, it was just one of those things. And then he said, "yet you know, we were truly happy then – yes, life was a real struggle, but each day you could see the business grow. Today it just isn't the same – with all my money – the same degree of happiness simply isn't there".

It's not wrong to be wealthy ... God many times blesses us with material goods, but if the overriding thrust of our lives is to increase in wealth, then like this businessman just mentioned, we'll repeat the experiment of Solomon – with an unfailing identical result.

  • Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
  • Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4-5)
  • For the love of money [pursuit] is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (I Timothy 6:10)
  • And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
  • And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
  • And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
  • And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
  • But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
  • So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)
Everlasting Joy:

So what makes for a truly lasting happiness? Clearly not money ... Job security... The roof over our heads ... Wife/husband/children ... All are merely physical – and therefore temporary. No, Jesus Christ clearly gives us the profound principle which must be applied to all facets of the subject: "give, and it shall be given unto you ... for with the same measure that ye meet withal it shall be measured to you again" . After all, God Himself is pursuing happiness – but it is not for Himself alone, but for the whole of His creation. And it was this joy – an everlasting joy – that sustained Christ in paying the penalty for our sins and thereby bringing many sons to glory. His mind was most definitely not on His own immediate welfare and happiness!

  • Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
  • And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
  • For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. (Isaiah 51:3)
  • Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 51:11-12)
  • For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)

Unlike life in the world today - which is led by the nose according to the incoming attitude of Satan's broadcast, the joy that is mentioned in the above verses will be the result of a very different source, when thankfully God's spirit will be poured out on all mankind!

God's Righteousness:

So what must we pursue – what must we hunger and thirst for – what will ultimately result in true everlasting happiness? Indeed, what is it that we need to get to grips with NOW, so we can teach it in the coming Kingdom of God? Mr Armstrong, at the very end of his life, gives the answer:

In the last year or more, I’ve been especially concerned about the passage of scripture that talks of hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness. I began to wonder: Did I really hunger and thirst for it? I knew I ought to want to have God’s righteousness. And I had to really stop to think, and begin to pray about it, before I began to really. And I thought I had, but I hadn’t really hungered and thirsted for it. I WANT God’s righteousness! Now if you can understand, you will too.

I think of God’s righteousness; and I think of God, and how holy and how righteous He is. God is so righteous He is absolutely perfect! Now God has… He never suffers anything, except sorrow that you and I cause Him; but of Himself He suffers nothing. He has no pain. He has no backache. No hips out of joint. No headache. But He is full of vitality. And He just feels so good, and so active, so strong, and so vigorous, and just feels good over and over all the time; and He’s never tired or weary. He is perfect, and EVERYTHING is just perfect in His life. He has NO FEARS and no worries of any kind, because He’s perfectly righteous. Perfectly! Now, that’s something to hunger and thirst for!

Now, I have some aches and pains. Sometimes they come; sometimes they go, and then others come. So do you. So do we all. But if we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, if we ever achieve it we will have perfect contentment, perfect happiness, perfect joy just brimful and running over, enthusiastically filled with love and with happiness beyond any description. We’d better hunger and thirst for it. Well now, what is that? It’s the absence of sin. And what is sin? In another way, you can say sin is the absence of righteousness... ( Rely on God – UB1 April 6, 1985)

And King David's input is very much the same:

  • As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. (Psalm 17:15)