The Pursuit of Happiness
Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad Psalm 126:2 –3
Most of us can’t imagine being exiled for many years, struggling to find help amid the despair, and then finally coming home again. Prisoners in Nazi concentration camps who were freed by the allies certainly experienced this roller coaster of emotions, and political prisoners in any land can relate too. When this psalm was written, the nation of Israel had been in captivity. Many had been killed, many were tortured, and many died of starvation and hopelessness. When the survivors were set free and nearing home, they were overcome with relief, joy, and thankfulness. They were so happy that they couldn’t stop laughing!
In America, all of us (except for Native Americans) are wanderers or descendants of wanderers who found a new home. Some of us and many of our ancestors escaped famine, abject poverty, political or religious oppressions, slavery, or threats of death but found new hope in a free land! Many immigrants who came through Ellis Island tell of the same kind of joy and hope that the Israelites felt when they returned home.
In a spiritual sense, all of us who know Christ were once “strangers” in despair, living in a foreign land of hopelessness and certain death. But God has rescued us, freed us, and brought us into the land of forgiveness, love, peace, and strength.
Release from political captivity isn’t very common, but those who experience it laugh with joy. Release from spiritual captivity is a far more common experience. We need to be gripped by its reality so we marvel at our freedom and sing with gladness.
“Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness”
The Bible says, “Whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.” It also says that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Those two words lie deep in the heart of every human. To know freedom and liberty are truly great gifts. When we think of those two words often want comes to mind is the words penned by the early fathers of America stating that we have been provided with the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet many are there who have embarked on that course only to discover that none of the things of this world really provide such. Many have sought financial freedom only to find themselves slaves to money and the more they have the more it controls them. Others have sought happiness through addictive substances or intoxicating beverages, trying to find some measure of satisfaction by artificial means only to find themselves in the cruel bondage to chemical dependence. Some have sought a sense of liberty by throwing all restraints and restrictions they feel are imposed on them only to find they can never escape the law of consequences.
The truth is that all are prisoners of sin and the sinful nature that every human is born into since the fall of Adam in the Garden. We can escape a lot of things but wherever we go we take who we are. We simply can’t outrun or out maneuver our self. Some believe that if they could change their environment life would be filled with happiness. But it’s not long before they recreate the environment they thought they had escaped from. Some try turning over a new leaf or try to make a conscious lifestyle change only to find themselves back in the same bondage and prison of their previous life.
Paul captures this struggle in Romans:
“We know that the Law is spiritual, but I am a creature of the flesh [worldly, self-reliant—carnal and unspiritual], sold into slavery to sin [and serving under its control]. For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled and bewildered by them]. I do not practice what I want to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate [and yielding to my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. Now if I habitually do what I do not want to do, [that means] I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good (morally excellent). So now [if that is the case, then] it is no longer I who do it [the disobedient thing which I despise], but the sin [nature] which lives in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. For the willingness [to do good] is present in me, but the doing of good is not. For the good that I want to do, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want to do, I am no longer the one doing it [that is, it is not me that acts], but the sin [nature] which lives in me. So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members. Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]? Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin.”
Did you read and can you identify with that struggle? It begins with a hopeless outlook and Paul cries out in anguish, “Who will rescue me and set me free from this body of death?” No prisoner has the power to set themselves free, so we cry out for liberty. Those discouraged and depressed have no power to lift themselves from the pit of despair so we cry out for a restoration of joy. We recognize that we need someone to be “our present help.” Paul identifies the source of deliverance and joy. He says that source is Christ, for Christ alone has the power to deliver us from the prison of sin and to instill in our souls true joy- joy that comes from within the heart of one who has been redeemed and purchased by Christ from the slave auction block.
Galatians says that the fruit of the Spirit is joy. What that means is that the automatic produce of the Spirit is joy. He is the source of joy. The Israelites discovered that joy and freedom were available to them in Babylonian captivity as much as when they were in Jerusalem. They discovered that the source of happiness was found in their relationship with God no matter where they were or what their circumstances was. We can too. Our joy is not subject to what’s going on around us but what lies within us. If Christ resides in our hearts then He is the wellspring of our joy and peace. That spring flows in dark, difficult stormy night seasons as much as it does in bright sunshiny days. One day every captive who cries out to God will be truly free, but until then we can find joy as we meditate on the goodness of God.
Dr. John Thompson