This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.
According to the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Christians rightly argue that most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were true believers. Christians wrongly argue that the Declaration of Independence is a document based upon biblical doctrines. (See my paper on “Authority” for the proof of that assertion.) In particular, the belief that God has given unto men the “right” to engage in the “pursuit of happiness” is a doctrine that has caused the Church to be assimilated into the culture of the land.
The idea that each individual has a God given “right” to pursue happiness is relatively uncommon in the history of political philosophy. Not too many years before the writing of the Declaration of Independence a man by the name of Thomas Hobbes had described the state of man as “miserable, brutish, and short.” That served as a pretty good summary for the experience of most people. Nevertheless, by the time of the Declaration of Independence we see that a view had developed that man has a right to be happy.
The notion that man has a God given right to be happy is in direct contradiction to numerous passages in the Bible. In the Sermon on the Mount (as recorded by Matthew in Chapter 5: 3-12) Jesus makes several comments about the blessed state of existence of true believers in Him. In verse 3 Jesus describes the believer as being “poor in spirit”. In verse 4 He describes them as “those who mourn”. In verse 6 He describes them as “hungering and thirsting after righteousness”. A hungry and thirsty man can be described as being anything but happy. Perhaps most telling of all is when Jesus asserts that “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” and “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely.” None of these descriptions of the true believer is in any way consistent with the concept of the pursuit of happiness.
James 4: 8-9 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.” Once again, this exhortation to draw near to God does not come accompanied by the God given right to pursue our
Jesus, in his farewell discourse to the disciples recorded in John 14-16 has several interesting things to say about the quality of life His followers were about to experience. In 15:19 He says, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” It is safe to assume that it is difficult to pursue happiness when surrounded by a world filled with hate for the individual in pursuit of that happiness. In 16:2 He says, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue; but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” Although specifically relevant to the disciples at that time, this passage continues to be fulfilled by Christian martyrs in our era. It is difficult to see how being executed for faithfulness to God is a part of the pursuit of happiness. Although not being subject to torture and execution, it is still difficult to conceive how it is possible to pursue happiness while undergoing the type of social persecution that Christians enjoy in the United States today.
In Matthew 10: 34-39 Jesus is recorded saying something that directly contradicts the concept that God has ordained the pursuit of happiness for His people. Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.” Again, it is difficult to see how the pursuit of personal peace and happiness is consistent with the revealed will of God in the Bible.
Despite the clear teachings in the Bible, evangelicals have abandoned biblical truth in favor of the pursuit of happiness doctrine found in the Declaration of Independence. Christians believe that their lives are to be easy, pleasant, enjoyable, good, and happy. Believers are regularly instructed from the pulpit that it is God’s will for them to be healthy, wealthy and content. Just trust in Jesus and your marriage will be restored. Just walk the walk and pray the prayer and your kids will be guaranteed to never “do drugs”. Indeed, theologian Francis Schaefer has described Evangelical theology in our era as the “age of personal peace and affluence”. As a less renowned theologian (Janis Joplin) once said, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”
All of this sounds terribly judgmental. How, it will be asked, can I possibly come to such negative conclusions as those stated in the paragraph above? I offer but one bit of truth as the primary evidence that proves my assertion that evangelicals have totally assimilated the idea of the pursuit of happiness: anger at God.
There is nary a Christian counseling ministry, a church or a seminary in this country that does not actively promote the practice of being angry with God. Christians are routinely counseled that the way to psychic happiness in their lives is to scream at God in anger for the miserable hand of life He has dealt them. No matter what goes wrong, the best way to cope with it is to get angry with God. After all, we are told, He is big enough and He can handle it. Your husband just took up with a pretty, young thing? Get angry with God! Your kid just got arrested for possession? Get angry at God! You just found out you have a terrible disease? Get angry with God! It seems there is no hardship known to man that does not have anger at God as the primary cure.
What is actually happening is that Christians are trying to pursue happiness and they are running into the providence of God as He promised in His Word. Rather than encountering pleasant, enjoyable, self-actualizing experiences, believers encounter the harsh reality of life in this world as Jesus described it. If these folks were true believers they would realize that anger with God is sin, pure and simple. God will judge those who profess to be angry with Him severely. If these folks were true believers they would realize that “all things work out for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” is not just a nice phrase to write on a trinket. True believers realize that all that comes from the hand of God is good. True believers meekly accept the discipline of God knowing that it is for their good.
If the Declaration of Independence had wanted to be theologically correct the authors should have written that all men are created by God and endowed with the unalienable duty to serve Him in all places at all times. But then, that would not have justified a revolution against the King of England. Instead, the Church has wholeheartedly adopted the concept of the pursuit of happiness, and its requisite anger with God corollary, as the best means to conduct life on earth. This act of assimilation has resulted in the misery of millions of people.