All right, this is part three of this series that we’ve started, “The Pursuit of Happiness, Why is it so Elusive”, and I’ve made this statement every week, and I still stand by it, but I think most adult Americans are unhappy. They experience some degree of unhappiness and they don’t know why and they don’t know what to do about it, and I have, each week shared different pieces that support that statement. I’m going to read you two more today as we start off and then I’ll launch into part three.
This first piece comes from September 7, 2003 edition of The New York Times magazine’s fascinating article entitled, “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness”, and it’s about our mistaken belief of what will produce happiness. The article is based on research by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert and his three fellow researchers, psychologist Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia, economist George Lowenstein of Carnegie Mellon, and the psychologist and Nobel Laureate in economics Daniel Kahneman of Princeton. I mean, a very impressive group of researchers. They conducted an academic study to explore what produces happiness. In the study, they examine the ways we make decisions that we believe will lead to genuine happiness, and then they examine how people actually felt once they got or experienced what they wanted. Ultimately, they were seeking to find out, do our decisions about life give us the emotional happiness we expect? And, of course, you know what the answer is. No. In the findings, they begin to wonder if everything we’ve ever thought about life choices and about happiness has been at least somewhat naive, or, at worse, greatly mistaken. In other words, they say we overestimate the actual intensity and duration of our emotional experiences. The researchers give an example of how we might believe an expensive automobile might make us feel wonderful. However, the research is quite clear that such a purchase always turns out to be less exciting than you anticipate and its excitement lasts for a much shorter period than you imagine it will. Gilbert says, it’s not that you can’t get the things that you think will make you happy because you can go out and get them. He says, it just doesn’t give you the thrill that you anticipated. Furthermore, they point out that most people do not know what will lead to their ultimate well-being. Why? They say because our desires bear little relation to the things that truly do make us happy.
Now, this second example comes from a woman by the name of Cynthia Heimel. She’s a journalist, and she wrote this article in The Village Voice. The Village Voice is a very popular magazine in New York that features articles on current affairs, culture, arts, and music in the city, and Heimel writes an article about the people that – she’s very well-connected – she talks about all the people that she’s known who’ve made it as famous actors and actresses on Broadway. She says, “You know, for years it was a struggle performing at auditions while holding down menial jobs.” She said, “They truly believed if they could only make it on the stage then they would be happy and complete. They were like so many New Yorkers. They were stressed, driven, and always tired, and when they finally made it and became famous, they became very difficult, unstable people.” Heimel observed that they did not become arrogant as you might expect. They became much more unhappy and discontented than they used to. She says, “I pity celebrities. No, I really do pity them because they were once perfectly pleasant human beings but now their wrath is awful. More than any of us, they wanted fame, they worked, they pushed, but the morning after each of them had become famous, they wanted to take an overdose, because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and happiness – that happened, but nothing had changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them into howling and insufferable human beings.” And she said, “I feel sorry for these people,” and then she made this interesting statement. She said, “You know, I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, He grants you your deepest wishes.”
So, what do we learn from these two pieces? Well, I think what Gilbert said is pretty instructive. It’s not that you can’t get the things in life that’ll make you happy, it’s just that when you get them, it doesn’t give you the thrill you anticipated. I think the bottom line, guys, modern people have no idea where to find happiness in life. They think they know but they don’t. Now, let me tell you something even more interesting, and one of the guys, one of the four men, the researchers Daniel Kahneman, who I was familiar with, won the Nobel Prize. He is an economist and a psychologist. Listen to this. He spent two decades of his life studying the issue of happiness. Twenty years. You know what happened at the end of 20 years? He abandoned his work because he said he was unable to come up with any conclusive insights regarding a person’s happiness and where you find it. I mean, how frustrating would that be? What a bummer. Twenty years of your life and you say I don’t know I can’t figure it out.
Last week, we started considering the factors that lead to happiness starting with God’s role, concluding God is the source of happiness, and it struck me later that a key to all of this is what kind of men you become. You know we get so focused on, as we’ve said before, what we’re experiencing. God is more interested in the kind of men we’re becoming, and when you become a man of strong Godly character, then obedience to God becomes natural, and that’s what we kind of talked about, the importance of obedience last week. But what I want to talk about now is what I consider to be a major factor. A major factor in finding happiness, and that factor is this. Living a life that has purpose and meaning, living a life that has purpose and meaning. Now, many of you know, I quote a guy from time to time. I Googled him the other day just make sure he’s still alive. His name is Peter Kreeft. He’s 81 years old, he still teaches philosophy at Boston College, and last count, last time I counted, he’d written 48 books, several of which I’ve read, and one of his books is on the teaching of C.S. Lewis. And in this particular message, or in this particular book, he says something quite incredible. He says, “We’re the first civilization that does not know why we exist. Every past civilization has always had some religious answer to the question but, the essence of modern life is the abandonment of that religious foundation.” And I think you’ll see this is a factor that’s resulted in the happiness of so many. In another book of his called Making Choices he says this. “Every great philosopher has philosophized about it. Every great writer has written about it. Every thoughtful person has thought about it. And every active person has acted on it. It’s the quest for the “Summum Bonum”, the greatest good, the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, and the answer to the question, why was I born, why am i living, what is the reason for life.” And Kreeft, who is Christian, says, that if you can’t answer that coherently, you will struggle in life, and you’ll struggle to find real happiness in life. Dallas Willard tells us why. He says, “Meaning is not a luxury for us. It’s a kind of spiritual oxygen that enables your soul to live and thrive.”
Now I was not going to share this piece, but it was so powerful to me, and I am going to share it with you. When I was in college, one of the required readings was several of Albert Camus’ books, and I don’t know if you know the name Albert Camus, a very famous existentialist author, who’s written a number of books. He and Jean-Paul Sartre were famous existentialists that were heroes, kind of a lot of the rebellious people back in the 60s. And most people don’t know this, I think they would be devastated, some of his followers, but Camus changed his mind about atheism.
I found out about a book that was written by a guy by the name of Howard Mumma, M-U-M-M-A, and Mumma was an American minister who, every summer was invited to go to preach at an American church, or an English-speaking church in Paris, which is where Camus lived. Again, a very famous guy, and Mumma says, one Sunday he’s preaching, he looks out, and there’s Camus, who could speak English, just sitting in the audience, and over time, they got into conversations. They became friends and this happened over several summers, and listen to this exchange. Really fascinating.
Mumma says, “Howard, you’re a great example, because you said to me again and again that you’re dissatisfied with the whole philosophy of existentialism, and that you are privately seeking something that you do not have.”
“Yes, you’re exactly right. The reason I’ve been coming to your church is because I’m seeking. I’m almost on a pilgrimage. Seeking something to fill the void that I’m experiencing and that nobody knows about.” He (Camus) said, “I hadn’t told anybody about this. Certainly the public and the readers of my novels, while they see that void, they’re not finding the answers in what they’re reading.” In other words, they’re not finding answers in my books, because I don’t give them any answers. He says, “But deep down, you’re right. I’m searching for something that the world is not giving me. After all, one of the basic teachings that I learned from Sartre is that man is alone. We’re solitary centers of the universe. Perhaps we ourselves are the only ones who’ve ever asked the great questions of life.” We’re going to look at that in a minute – what are the great questions of life? “Perhaps it’s Nazism. We are also the ones who have loved and lost and who are therefore fearful of life. That is what led us to existentialism, and since I’ve been reading the Bible, I sensed that there is something out there. I don’t know if it’s personal, or if it’s a great idea, or a powerful influence, but there is something that can bring meaning to my life. I certainly don’t have it, but it’s there, and on Sunday mornings when I listen to you, I hear that the answer is God.” And then later, he comes and says that he believes. Howard, I believe this. I believe in God, I believe that Christ is the Son of God, but this is what’s so interesting, and I don’t know what to make of it. This was right when Mumma was going back to the States, and soon after that, Camus was killed in a car crash, so we never got to see the conversations that they had. I like to think that God rescued him right before he died, but, you know, this guy had unbelievable fame and fortune but was unhappy because life was so meaningless. There was a void.
There’s an a journalist by the name of Emily Smith who wrote a great article in The Atlantic Magazine explaining the relationship between meaning and happiness, which is what this series is about, the search for happiness. She says, “There’s a connection between meaning and happiness.” And she quotes from Victor Frankl’s famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. You know who Frankl is, he was a Jewish psychiatrist who spent several years in a Nazi death camp, and he says, the difference between those who lived and those who died in those camps came down to one thing. Did they have meaning and purpose in their lives. You see, Frankl recognized that seeking to find a meaningful life is at odds with a culture that’s much more interested in the pursuit of happiness. He says, and he moved to America and lived in America for a number of years, he says, “Its characteristic of the American culture that again and again, one is commanded and ordered to be happy, but this is what I’ve concluded. Happiness is a byproduct,” there’s that word again, “byproduct of living a meaningful life,” and then furthermore, Emily Smith says, “the research is clear. Living with a sense of purpose and meaning does four things for your life. One, is a life of satisfaction. Two, it leads to good mental health. Three, it leads to good self-esteem, and, most significantly, people who live meaningless lives will find it keeps depression out of your life.” Now, that’s secular but how important is satisfaction, good mental health, good self-esteem, keeping depression out of your life, how important is that to finding happiness? I think it’s critical.
I don’t know how many of you remember when we studied a couple of years ago the book of Ecclesiastes. You know, most people assume that the author of Ecclesiastes was Solomon. Remember Solomon had everything. He said, and this was in a dark period in his life where he basically had kind of abandoned God, and he said, I tried everything under the Sun. I didn’t withhold anything from myself, not a thing, not a pleasure, nothing. He said, but what did I discover? Life is utterly meaningless. It’s like chasing after the wind, and then in the end, he said, there’s nothing to live for under the sun. In other words, there’s nothing to live for as far as life without God. And then he says, unless you get some type of connection to what is above the sun, and he’s talking about God, he says, life will always be meaningless. Another way of putting it, he says, when you get a vertical connection with the divine, it will change everything about how you interpret life on the horizontal level. And this is quite logical, if you think about it. I mean, look at my smartphone. Purpose and meaning implies design. This is not just a piece of plastic that popped into existence. Somebody designed it and somebody mass-produced it, and therefore, this smartphone serves a purpose, it has purpose, because somebody designed it.
Now, I want to spend the balance of our time addressing this question. How does Christ play a role in helping you find purpose and meaning in life? And, as you’ll see, it’s critical. It’s the foundation of finding true purpose and meaning in life. Before I get into what I want to talk about, this won’t take but a minute. There’s a psychologist in California, and his name is John O’Neill, and he wrote a book called The Paradox of Success, and in the book, he gets to a place of examining our work and how we find meaning in life. And then he makes this incredible admission about finding purpose and meaning in life. He says, the basic questions, the big questions, that we encounter when we look deeply into the shadows, he says, they’re all spiritual questions when it gets right down to it. This guy’s not a man of faith. He says, “These questions concern our place and purpose in the world, the significance of our lives and our personal connection to whatever force keeps the world humming along.” He doesn’t know Who that force is. He says, “But most of us today have moved away from the religious structures that once supplied the answers to these questions. This is the problem that we’re struggling with. The problem is, these questions haven’t gone away. They’re always there, staring us in the face. Our compulsive busyness, our dread of unstructured time, and our reluctance to be alone with ourselves are rooted in the uncomfortable sense that our lives lack meaning and that we are disconnected and all alone in the universe.” And so, what are the big questions that Camus mentioned that O’Neill is talking about? Well, there’s four or five. I’m going to look at three and I’m going to look, we’re not going to take much time. We’re going to look at the Godless view, or the Godless answer, to the big questions and then the Biblical answer to the questions, and, of course, the first question is, “Who am I”. “Who are we?” And if there is no God, then I’m here by accident, and I’m just nothing but more than a mass of chemicals that under the right circumstances evolved into certain life forms, but you know what this really means, this is significant guys, it means that all that you and I are, are physical beings. We’re nothing but physical. We have no soul, we have no spiritual dimension. We’re a sophisticated animal, and that’s quite disconcerting, if that’s all I am. But the Biblical view is that God stands behind our existence. He put us here. He put us here. Furthermore, we learn this. In Genesis 1:26, it said, then God said, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him male and female, He created them.” I find it interesting, to digress for one second, notice, it doesn’t say in verse 26, God says, I’m gonna make man in my image, he says, “let us make man in our image.” “Us” is the first reference to the Triune God. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
So, basically, we’re made in God’s image. It says it in several other places, and then, in Ephesians 2:10, if you remember, it says, “We are God’s workmanship. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” But we’re His workmanship and you remember what that word “workmanship” comes from? The Greek word poema, which means we’re God’s work of art, and because of that, we have great value. Because you’re His workmanship. You see, for so many men, they believe that their life is based on what they do, and how much they achieve, and how successful they are in life, but God’s saying, that doesn’t determine your value. Your value is determined by Who made you, and so, the thing I would ask you is, how do you see your life? Do you see the value of human life? So, that’s the first big question.
The second one, I think is of major significance, and that is, and we’ve talked about it many times. Why am I here? Why am I here? Why did God put me here? Well, again, if you go back to, “there is no God”, then why are we here. We’re not here for any reason! We’re here by accident. Our lives are pointless. You live and you die, but the Bible answers this in a very, very powerful way. We’re made in God’s image, and by being made in God’s image, we can think, reason, and be creative, as God thinks, reasons, and is creative. We can, we have a personality, because God has a personality. We can love because God loves. Most significantly guys, we are relational beings because God is a relational God, and you know what He tells us in Colossians 1:16? “For by Him all things were created both in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether the thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things have been created through Him, and for Him.” Did you hear that? We are created for God. I Corinthians 1:9 says, “We’ve been called to live our lives in fellowship with Jesus Christ.” We’ve been called to live our lives. And that word “fellowship” literally means “companionship”.
In Isaiah 43:21, God talks about “the people who I formed for Myself”. In I Corinthians 8:6, it says, “We exist for Him.” We’re called to live in relationship with God. This is why Paul says in Colossians 2:10, “In Christ,” in this relationship, “we are made complete,” as human beings. But when you go back to Ephesians 2:10, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God has something, guys, that He wants to do in and through each of our lives. He wants to use us, as a businessman, as a husband, as a father, as a friend, to people in your sphere of influence, and you know, I’ve really been thinking about this a lot, you know what He really wants all of us to be doing is planting seeds in people’s lives. Planting seeds, sowing seeds. You see that theme emphasized over and over, and you know, so many times, when you plant a seed, you don’t know what’s going to come of it.
I had a great thing happened to me a couple years ago that, well, let me let me back up even further. This is a great blessing that God bestowed upon me. Twenty-something years ago, my closest friend in college was back teaching and the dean of students at my Alma Mater, and he taught a group of students, a Bible study, I want to say they were seniors, and I had called him, and I don’t think I was married at the time, so it’s been over 23 years ago, I called him, I said, you know, I’m gonna come up and visit you, and he said, well, why don’t you come up on a Sunday because I have this student Bible study, and you teach, and then you can stay and have dinner with him and his wife. So, I remember, I threw something together, it wasn’t anything, it wasn’t a big deal, I thought, threw something together, I remember challenging these students, either you’re, you know, as you go through life, either you invest, or you spend your life, on yourself, again, not a big deal. Four years ago, I was at J.H. Ranch, I was out in California, and this guy comes up to me. He says, you won’t remember me, but I was one of the men in that Bible study that you taught twenty-something years ago, 25 years ago. He said, God spoke to me so powerfully, I remember thinking, are you serious? He said, God spoke to me, because, he said, I was planning, I was leaving to go to business school. He said, but I felt called that night to go to seminary, and today, he is pastor of a large church, senior pastor of a large church in South Carolina. Just a seed that was planted. You never know what will happen. C.S. Lewis says, “The smallest good act today very well may be the strategic point from which months or years later you may be able to go to greater victories, and see things that you never dreamed of.” We’re called to plant seeds. You know, in Acts 13:36 it says, “David had served the purpose of God in his lifetime, and then he died.”
Guys, are we serving God’s purpose in our own lives as we live today?
The final big question, the third big question. What is my ultimate destiny? What comes after this life? Well, if there is no God, what comes after this life? Nothing. We’re food for the worms. We go, we die, we go into everlasting nothingness, but, you know, there’s a problem. I think this is what Albert Camus experienced. I think this is what a lot of atheists experience. They have a hard time living that way, really believing it. You know why? Because Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet, so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” God has set eternity in each of our hearts, in other words, we are eternal beings, and a lot of people are trying to live their lives as if, no, I’m just a finite being, I’m gonna die and that’s it, and yet, in reality, I think they really struggle with it because there’s this longing for permanence, and I think this is what death is so frightening. When atheists get to the end, I think it’s so frightening because we are everlasting beings, and I think we sense it deeply because this is the way we’re made. Of course, what is the main theme of the Bible? It’s about eternal life. You know, there’s two phrases that you see over and over throughout the Bible. Eternal life and the Kingdom of God, and, of course, what does Jesus tell us about His Kingdom? It’s not of this world, and so, the Bible’s main theme is for us to obtain eternal life in the Kingdom of God and Jesus says, you enter through Me. I am the door; you enter through Me. So, guys, when it comes to the big questions of life, the big questions that give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose, the Bible has solid answers for all of them.
And so, I’ll leave you with this thought. Jesus is the only One Who can unify and guide your life because He is the Center from which all of life flows. In Christ, there is purpose and meaning, and happiness is a byproduct of living a meaningful life.
Let me close. Lord, we thank You for what You reveal in the Scriptures about life and finding purpose and understanding why we’re here and what our ultimate destiny is. We thank You that You give us such coherent answers to the big questions of life and we can rest in that. We thank You Lord for all of this and pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.