Finding Happiness

British pop singer Adele says her latest album is for her nine-year-old son. She wants him to understand “who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness.”  The three years making it was a “self-reflection and then sort of self-redemption.”

That’s pitiful. No, it’s tragic. She has internalized the pop psychology once expressed as “be true to yourself” and “follow your heart.” Those are now the cultural doctrines and virtue signals of self-fulfillment, self-love, and psychological self-expression. But how is that pursuit of happiness virtuous when it requires someone else to lose theirs? Whatever happened to the virtue of self-sacrifice?

Jesus told us what it means to be a contented human being when he said the greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor. In “Mere Christianity,” C. S. Lewis writes, “The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”

God fashioned humans to find joy in relationship with Him and in imitation of His self-sacrifice.  Yet humans think they can “invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy” (Lewis again).

You need not spend years in self-reflection plotting your self-redemption. You’ll not find what you seek rummaging through dusty bins in moldy corners seeking the treasure that could be yours by an outstretched faith and heavenward gaze. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psa. 37:4).

May the God of hope fill you (and Adele’s child and his parents) with all joy and peace in believing in Christ Jesus (Rom 15:13).

Give Credit

So, Captain Kirk made a trip to space!  William Shatner struggled to express himself after his trip in the Blue Origin rocket.

Moments after landing he told Jeff Bezos, “Unbelievable. The covering of blue…it’s so thin, and you’re through it in a moment. What you see down there is light.  What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine.  I am so filled with emotion about what just happened! I hope I never recover from this. It’s so much larger than me and life. It has to do with the suddenness of life and death! OMG!”

I understand Shatner thanking Bezos, but he could have said more. If Shatner is still struggling with words, here’s a cue: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers…” (Psa. 8:3).

Consider a down-to-earth story. The widowed lady’s grandson, Adam, lives hours away. She enjoys their fleeting moments together. His parents bring him to visit a few times each year.  She decides to create a permanent reminder that she loves him, something that would be meaningful now and after he’s grown up.

She begins to sort through her closets. She sets aside the cowboy-themed linens from his dad’s childhood and shirts his grandfather wore.  She finds the blue gingham dress she wore as a young mother, and the colorful, embroidered curtains from their first house. She still has some of Adam’s baby clothes left behind from a visit a few years ago.

With material in hand, she begins the months-long task of making a full-size quilt. The arthritis in her hands and the fatigue in her eyes reduce the pace of the work but not her dedication to the task. When it is finished she says, “It’s beautiful, if I may say so myself.  This is good.”

She holds onto the treasured gift until Christmas. She wraps the box and marks “Adam” on the tag. “They will know it’s from me,” she muses. During their visit, the boy opens the box. “I’ve never seen anything like this!” he marvels, showing his parents. They are delighted with the colors, design, and usefulness of the quilt. But they never acknowledge how the quilt came to be. They do not recognize the sacrifice, creativity, and love that went into it. It never occurs to them to thank her. She loves them, nonetheless.

You don’t need a ten-minute trip in a Blue Origin rocket to be inspired to give credit where credit is due. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa. 19:1). Consider the beauty and design of creation and worship the Creator! “Worthy are You…for You created all things” (Rev. 4:11). One day you’ll see Him face to face and “O my God!” will have new meaning.

Searching for Eternity

Young people dream of being rich, and rich people dream of being young. That would explain why Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and other billionaires are investing in startups like Altos Labs and Calico Labs.

These labs research how humans can live longer, even indefinitely. They focus on how to reprogram cells and turn back the biological clock. Scientist Shinya Yamanaka won a Nobel Price for discovering four proteins that reverse aging in cells. (They also cause huge tumors in lab mice.) Contemporary with this effort is the research of Israeli scientists who extended the life and health of lab mice with genetic modifications.

This pursuit of longevity is no stranger to history. Cryonics, freezing the body in hopes of future resuscitation, has been around for 50 years. Eugenics and selective breeding were the predictable outcomes of Darwinism and contributed to 20th C. horrors. Conquistador Ponce de Leon trekked through Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth. Indiana Jones searched for the Holy Grail…wait, that’s fiction!

Anyway, here’s what these folks are missing. Even if they were successful, they won’t have the utopia they seek. Extended life would still suffer the ravages of the human condition. They will not eliminate sickness and injury, nor the mental anguish of fear, grief, and worry. Dishonesty, unfaithfulness, selfishness, and hate will remain. I’ll give them this. They have the right idea, but they set their sights too low.

Our Creator hardwired the idea in us. “He has set eternity in their hearts” (Ecc. 3:11). So we search for the good that is beyond the ravages of time. C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. Earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

How do we find the real thing? “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Waves and Winds

On the anniversary of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg’s death, the ACLU tweeted a quote by her. The judge’s 1993 statement was “dated,” so the tweeter edited the engendered words and pronouns. A New York Times columnist complained, “It was somewhat Orwellian to rewrite historical narratives to suit modern sensibilities.” One would think Ginsberg, the ACLU, and the NYT would be of the same mind. But times change, so do minds.

Much is Orwellian these days due to chronological snobbery, i.e. today’s ideas are better than yesterday’s. Christianity has not been immune to such “reinterpretation” as though eternal truths change with the times. But we are not “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). We know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings” (Heb. 13:8-9).

We resist the waves and winds with a personal knowledge of God as Creator and Ruler of all. Creation is not the Creator. God transcends creation yet guides history toward the culmination of time. His power and perfection create a vast gulf between Him and His creatures.

Modern sensibilities hold that humans are basically good and simply need to tap our “better angels.” The solutions are self-help techniques and cafeteria spirituality. This rewrite denies that we are marked by the dreadful stain of sin, separated from a holy God. Yet we cannot hold any moral course on our own, which proves our brokenness. All have sinned, and we know it.

The waves and winds would make Jesus into a simple teacher of righteousness whose death was an admirable example of self-sacrifice. His Resurrection would be spiritual, certainly not miraculous. Yet the actual Jesus regarded Himself as God the Son, the object of your faith, the Savior of your soul. If this is not true, He was a false teacher. If true, His death and physical Resurrection change everything. Only Jesus, God the Son, bridges the vast gulf between you and the Father. This is not an exclusive claim because it is for anyone who believes.

We need absolute Truth. Professor Carl Trueman writes, “A gospel rooted in Scripture and based on the historical action of God in Christ is still the primary need of the world around us. Anything less is not just inadequate; it is in realty not historic, redemptive Christianity.” The Scripture anticipates the allure of a form of godliness without power (2 Tim. 3:5). Any rewrite of the loving, powerful, and true story of Christianity is such a form.

The older I am, the more I enjoy what stays the same. What God has said and done need no rewrite because eternal truth stays the same, cultural waves and winds notwithstanding.

Fair and Just

I followed with great interest the plight of 15,000 Haitian migrants camped under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Living in their country for two years, I saw firsthand the wretched economic conditions and the desperation.

Illegal immigration is a political flashpoint, and I’ll not take sides here. I don’t have all the details, but the part of the story that troubles me is that some Haitians were put on planes back to Haiti while others were put on buses to U.S. cities. Those deported must have felt it wasn’t fair that the U.S. allowed the others to remain.

Years ago, a Haitian friend told me he had received a U.S. tourist visa. I challenged him. “Are you really just visiting or do you plan to overstay your visa and get a job?”  His answer was humbling. “Wouldn’t you do anything you could to offer your children a better life? As an American, I don’t think you could ever really understand.” That made me realize that human ideas of justice will never be perfect and we may never agree on what is fair.

The yearning for fairness and justice is hard-wired into our humanity. We yearn for wrong things to be set right. Yet even the justice of a holy God doesn’t come across as fair to us imperfect humans. Is it fair that we are born into the human condition and inevitably fall under God’s judgment?  Are the murderer of children and the teller of little white lies equally accountable to God? Is eternal punishment fair?

C. S. Lewis considers the objections to God’s justice and writes, “What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all cost, to give them a fresh start? But He has done so, on Calvary.” So yes, we all commit crimes against God, and the impact of some are more horrendous to us than others. But the offer of forgiveness is the same. Jesus told of the vineyard owner who paid all workers the same though some worked less. He said, “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matt. 20).

Here is God’s generous justice: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24). Jesus’ death procured perfect justice for us but it was not fair to Him. He was innocent of our ugly sin even as he made the cross beautiful to us. He made it possible for you to be declared blameless.

Those who would travel to the U.S. border seeking illegal entry do not know how laws will be enforced when they arrive. To immigrants and U.S. citizens alike, that is not setting wrong things right. But this is: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).