July 27, 2008

Life, Liberty, and the (never-ending) Pursuit of Happiness

The marketers for Cadillac, the luxury line of cars manufactured by General Motors, pretty much hit the nail on the head when they came up with their new slogan: "Life. Liberty. and the Pursuit." Taking this great slogan directly out of the Declaration of Independence, they correctly placed the emphasis on "the Pursuit"...it really is all about the pursuit, isn't it?

In case you don't remember the middle school test question, here's the small, and probably most famous part of the Declaration that we've all heard: "...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." Have you spent any time dwelling on the statement above? I think many Americans take some of those Rights for granted, yet our Founding Fathers thought them so important and innovative that they felt compelled to include them in the Deceleration of Independence. This "innovative" thought is actually centuries old! In fact, Christ offered these same Rights to any and all that would follow Him.

– Jesus Christ spoke extensively about Life, both physical and spiritual. He offers Eternal (spiritual) Life to any person who believes in Him. In John 3:16 we read, " This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." John 10:10 reiterates this thought, "I [Jesus] came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." Again in Acts 16:31 Luke, a disciple of Christ writes, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live."

Christ gave explicit directions to Christ Followers concerning their physical life: Do not worry! In Matthew 6:25 we read, "So I tell you, don't worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn't life consist of more than food and clothing?" Again and again He stresses to Christ followers, "If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life." (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, and Luke 9:24) During His short earthly ministry, Jesus Christ redefined the meaning of life. He transformed a physical, materialistic view of life into a spiritual and eternal view of life. In Luke 12:15 we read, "Beware! Don't be greedy for what you don't have. Real life is not measured by how much we own." Luke 12:15

Liberty – The Gospels are full of Christ’s offer for liberty, or freedom. The nation of Israel spent years in captivity and bondage, and at the time of Christ’s birth, they were seeking a Messiah to free them from the Roman Empire. The Pauline Epistles and other New Testament books reiterate Christ’s offer of freedom, not just for Israel, but for all peoples of all nations. Paul writes in Romans 8:21, “Creation itself will also be set free [liberated] from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God's children.”

The liberty that Christ offers is freedom from the Old Testament Law. In Romans 6:14 Paul describes our liberation from the Law, “Sin can't tell you how to live. After all, you're not living under that old tyranny any longer. You're living in the freedom of God.” Christ Followers are also offered freedom from bondage to the Devil and worldly desires. Romans 12:2 instruct Christ Followers, “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” You see, while Christ offers everyone freedom from the Law and freedom from sin, He calls all of His followers to a higher standard of Christian excellence.

Pursuit of Happiness – Did you know that the word happiness does not appear in the New Testament at all? And happy appears merely six times in the New Testament. For the context in which we are discussing the word happy – only five of those six verses are appropriate. In John 13 we read of Jesus washing His disciple’s feet. He explains to them that He is acting as an example to them, and concludes his discussion by saying, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” The remaining four verses (Romans 14:22, James 5:11, I Peter 3:14 and II Peter 4:14) attribute being happy to those who endure persecution, ridicule, and suffering on behalf of Christ Jesus. This Biblical model of happiness certainly doesn’t match our culture’s model for happiness!

Perhaps that’s because this culture constantly emphasizes the pursuit of happiness instead of emphasizing being happy. In today’s society, just as the makers of Cadillac so aptly remind us daily on TV, happiness is always just a little out of reach. Buying a luxury car, the latest gaming system, a bigger home (with a pool), name-brand clothes, designer purses and shoes, etc, etc. does not inherently equal happiness. It’s all just part of the pursuit of happiness.

Early Christ Followers (Paul, James, Peter, John, etc.) frequently utilized the word joy rather than happy. Joy is found in the New Testament ten times more often than happy – that’s sixty times in the Gospels and Epistles! John 15:11 introduces readers to the (not so secret and yet oh so attainable) Source of joy: “[Jesus said] I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” How amazing that despite our circumstances, status in life, demographic location, gender, race, and social standing, Jesus Christ offers us His never-ending joy! Society and culture will constantly bombard us with the never-ending pursuit of happiness, and all the while, we have available to us a constant supply of joy – Christ Jesus Himself! Again and again Christ Followers are assured of Christ’s joy in its fullest! Christ even goes so far as to say that, “. . . no one can rob you of that joy.”

The makers of Cadillac want us to believe that happiness can only be attained by purchasing a luxury vehicle. The truth is, it really isn’t about the pursuit, or happiness, at all. It’s really all about joy.

1 comment:

VPS said...

Love your insights!

I guess that's why parents teach their children & toddlers in the nursery, "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. WHERE? Down in my heart to stay!"

So grateful you are & most often could be described as "joy on two feet"! You are blessed . . . as am I, your mom & friend.