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.
– The Declaration of Independence
I know it’s not July 4th yet, but since I’ll be on vacation next week (holla!), I thought I’d go ahead and post this now. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. Or something.
July 4th, of course, commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our official notice to the king of England that the American colonies were breaking free of the monarchy and becoming our own country. It’s our Independence Day, a celebration of freedom, liberty, and the ideals that have made America the greatest nation on earth. But as patriotic as I am, there’s one phrase from the Declaration of Independence that I don’t entirely agree with: “the pursuit of Happiness.”
Do we, as Americans, have a right to be happy? I suppose we do, in the sense that we have a right to live our lives to the best of our ability and do our best to provide for our families. But to suggest that God somehow guarantees us happiness isn’t exactly biblical. The truth is, the Bible never promises us we’ll be happy, not in this life anyway. And in fact, in some cases it’s just the opposite.
Jesus said that in this life we’ll have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33) and that the world will hate us if we follow Him (Matthew 10:22, John 15:18-19, John 17:14-19). We’re told our faith will be tested “as fire tests and purifies gold” (1 Peter 1:6-7) and that we’ll be “pressed on every side by troubles”, “perplexed”, “hunted down”, and “knocked down”, living in “constant danger of death because we serve Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:8-11). The book of Hebrews gives several examples of people from the Old Testament who acted on faith in the face of incredibly difficult circumstances: Abel, whose faithfulness to God resulted in his death; Noah, who was ridiculed for building an ark; Abraham, who was told to leave home without being told where he was going and who later was told to sacrifice the one son God had promised him; Moses, who, though he suffered from a debilitating speech impediment, led over a million Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land even though he was told he would die before entering it. Most of the apostles from the New Testament were either martyred or arrested. Paul, who spent much of his ministry imprisoned in Roman chains, was whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, threatened by both Jews and Gentiles, and often went hungry, thirsty, and without clothes or a home (2 Cor. 11:16-33).
That doesn’t sound like happiness if you ask me.
But it’s not all hopeless. Jeremiah 29:11 says the Lord knows His plans for us and that they are “plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Proverbs 3:5-6 says that if we trust in the Lord and seek His will, He will direct our paths. Isaiah 43:1-4 says that God will be with us when we go through rivers of difficulty, and Psalm 139 says we can never escape His presence. Jesus promised that He would give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and that through Him we would never be spiritually hungry or thirsty again (John 6:35, John 4:10-14). As Christians, we’ve been set free from the penalty of sin and ultimately from the power of it (Romans 6:23, Galatians 5:1). And as such, we’re considered to be God’s own children and heirs (1 John 3:1, Romans 8:15-17) and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus said that He came so that we would have life and “have it to the full” (John 10:10). So maybe we actually do have an unalienable right to pursue happiness after all. Just as long we understand where true happiness comes from.