In our pursuit of God are we on a truth quest or merely a happiness quest? Do we just want God to make us happy, or are we willing to follow the truth to where it leads?
I had often heard Christian author and apologist Frank Turek ask that question of his audience. Too many Christians are only on a happiness quest.
When I was 21 years old, working at Rinky Dink Miniature Golf in Henrietta, New York, I got into a conversation with my supervisor. As a married woman in her early 40s, for some reason she thought it was appropriate to discuss her marital problems with me. She told me that she was likely going to seek a divorce. Knowing I was a Christian, she added "I think that God wants me to be happy."
In doing research on this question of happiness, I came across a January 1, 1980 sermon by Paris Reidhead. Reidhead was a Christian missionary to Africa. In his sermon "Ten Shekels and a Shirt" taken from Judges 17 Reidhead paints a picture of Micah the Ephraimite who built a shrine, placed metal idols in the shrine and hired a Levite for ten shekels a year and a shirt. Micah said in Judges 17:13 "Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as a priest."
Micah the Ephraimite, not to be confused with Micah the prophet, established a counterfeit religion, an alternate place to worship God as well as idols. The House of God was at Shiloh, but Micah thought he could be happy by setting a shrine in the hill country of Ephraim. The Levite also pursued his own happiness, so he sold his priestly services to Micah. It was a time, says Judges 17:6, where "there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
So Micah was happy in his little business pedaling in idolatry and the Levite was happy pedaling his priestly services for a good wage. So, what if it involved idolatry. God just wanted them to be happy, right? Then the people of Dan, who were supposed to be driving out the Amorites from their land, but found them too difficult an opponent. They plundered Micah's house instead. The Levite sold his services to the people of Dan and departed with them. He rationalized his decision to go with the Danites based on the greater number of people to which he could minister. Staying with Micah, the Levite was only a priest to one man's house. Going with the people of Dan he could be a Levite to an entire tribe. The Levite was only interested in serving men who would pay top dollar, looking for a place of recognition, and finding happiness. God was a means to an end, not the end itself.
Many Christians are on the same happiness quest the Levite embarked on. But, this quest that declares the end of all human existence is for the happiness of man is nothing more than humanism. Humanism is about mankind being able to perfect himself, so that in the end he achieves maximum happiness. The effect of humanism is a cultural lawlessness where everyone pursues happiness in a way which is right in his own eyes.
People don't come out and say they prefer to pursue happiness over knowing the truth about God. But, when we pursue God with a focus on our happiness it is striking how often our "god" confirms our preferences. We justify almost anything.
"Should I stay in a troubled marriage when I have someone at work who pays attention to me? After all God wants me to be happy."
"Did God really say that this lifestyle is sin? Love is love, and God wants me to be happy."
Recently the wife of a prominent American pastor told their congregation on Sunday morning "Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself. Because that's what makes God happy. Amen?"
This liberal outlook on life is not concerned about what happens to us after death, only with what will make us happier while we are alive.
This stench of humanism has even seeped into our conservative evangelical language and has been elevated to the level of doctrine. Conservative evangelicals tend to share the Gospel in a humanistic way. "Come to Jesus so that you can go to heaven and avoid hell."
If the liberal says that religion is to make man happy while he is alive, the conservative says that religion is to make man happy after he dies. Is that all the Gospel is about, avoiding misery in life or avoiding hell after death?
Such sentiments are merely humanism, the deification of man. Both thoughts are treating God as a means to an end rather than an end itself. Reidhead thundered in his sermon "In essence it is this: that this philosophical postulate that the end of all being is the happiness of man has been covered over with evangelical terms and biblical doctrine until God reigns in heaven for the happiness of man. Jesus Christ was incarnate for the happiness of man...Everything is for the happiness of man. And I submit to you this is un-Christian!"
Is our happiness in this life or the next one God's greatest concern? The conventional wisdom is that God desires our happiness, but when we read what God actually says, we find a different picture. So, if happiness is not the end of mankind, what is? To find the answer we must follow the truth where it leads. We must be on a truth quest.
Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24 "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." The truth is you cannot be His disciple without denying yourself and losing your life.
In John 16:33 Jesus assured us "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
Happiness is not what Jesus promised us. He promised trouble. He promised tribulation, not as a reward for our devotion, but as a consequence of our associating our lives with His. But he also promised his strength in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). He promised his presence even until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
If happiness and the avoidance of hell are not the reason for our salvation, what is?
Jesus prayed to the Father "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:1-3). Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 why God created mankind. "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." You were bought with a price therefore "glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:20). The truth should lead us to conclude that the chief end of mankind is to know God and to glorify Him.
Approaching salvation based on humanism coerces a person to tremble with the fear of going to hell. There is no sense of the seriousness of our sin. True repentance, however, comes to terms with the enormity of sin and our denial of the God to whom worship is due. We repent, not because we fear hell, but because God deserves our obedience and love. "There is only one reason for you to go to the cross" Reidhead proclaimed. "And that is because until you come to the place of union with Christ in death you are defrauding the Son of God of the glory that he could get out of your life."
The purpose of our lives is to give glory to God. So in our pursuit of God, let our quest not be one for happiness. Like the mantra of the Moravians who sold themselves into slavery in order to win the slaves for Christ, let us pursue God in truth and declare the end of our lives is "that the Lamb that was slain may receive the reward of his sufferings."