Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness Hebrews 12:2

Thinking about the Lord's Supper and the Fourth of July brings to my mind two puzzling statements, one in the Declaration of Independence and one in Hebrews 12:2. The puzzling phrase in the Declaration of Independence is found in the philosophical heart of that document: "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 phrase that puzzled me is: "the pursuit of happiness." It could easily be understood as self-centered, focused on personal pleasure, even hedonistic. Surely that isn't what Jefferson meant. I came to understand it when I learned the educational and philosophical context in which it was written.

The Declaration of Independence was written and signed by men who had been highly influenced by the Scottish enlightenment. In fact, fully 1/3 of the signers were of Scottish or Ulster Scott extraction. They were familiar with and had been influenced by the teachings of Francis Hutcheson of Glasgow who was known as the founding father of the Scottish enlightenment.

He believed that every one's ultimate goal in life is happiness, but for him this meant not the gratification of physical desires but making others happy. "That action is best," he said, "which procures the greatest happiness," and the highest form of happiness is making others happy.

A recent scientific experiment at the University of Oregon, reported in Eugene's Register Guard newspaper, supports this idea. A number of people were given money and the opportunity to give it away or to keep it. Their brains were monitored and it was discovered that voluntarily giving to help others produced a response in the part of the brain that registers pleasure.

Haven't you found it to be true that when you do something that makes someone else happy it produces happiness in you also? Like seeing your child open a gift, or seeing a young person blossom as a result of your teaching. Doesn't it make you happy to see slides by a missionary of someone being baptized in Kenya, or children singing enthusiastically in a Ukrainian church camp, knowing that your gifts help make this possible? On the other hand, the more self centered, the more we try to make ourselves happy by hoarding or spending on ourselves, the more miserable we are.

Jimmy Durante's gravelly voice in Sleepless in Seattle said it in song: "Make someone happy, make just one someone happy, and you will be happy too."

This helps us understand the puzzling statement about Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 which says, "... for the joy set before him he endured the cross ..." It seems strange to put joy and enduring the cross together in the same sentence, but its true that when Jesus went to the cross he was in "the pursuit of happiness" -- yours and mine! The happiness of forgiven sin, of cleansing and renewal. The happiness of reconciliation and hope. All of this he secured for us on the cross. Thus, it was "for the joy set before him that he endured the cross." We experience again that joy every time we join him at the communion table.

1 comment:

Tom said...

George,this meditation should have brought you no small degree of happiness... for it was a gift well appreciated on this end.

Good stuff!