Two Steps to Happiness

Two Steps to Happiness

By Maurice J. Roberts

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Christian’s High Calling [Banner of Truth Trust, 2000], 10-16
 

It is rather surprising that our generation is not a happy one. We have so many advantages that our parents and grandparents never had, and perhaps never dreamed of. Yet we are not happy as a generation. People’s faces betray their inward strains and fears. Few smile and almost none sings joyfully.

This is not what we might have expected when it is remembered that only a few years ago politicians were telling us that ‘we had never had it so good’. Whatever material blessings we have had in the past few years, they do not appear to have brought much inward delight. The prevailing mood of society is glum. If we ought to learn anything from our experiences of having more worldly goods than our parents did it is surely this: outward things do not make people happy.

It is worth a little time and thought to ask why it is that outward things do not bring satisfaction to the human heart. If man were nothing more than the developed ‘animal’ that he is reckoned popularly to be, he ought to be perfectly happy in a society where good things are available in plenty. A cow in clover is perfectly content. Why then should mankind not be equally content in a world of eating and drinking, playing and dancing? Why, when man has a paradise of sports, fashions and entertainments on his doorstep, is he still worried and unhappy? Why is he puzzled, angry and afraid if he has ready to his hand everything that his eye and his appetite could ask for? Man is a strange being to be sure.

At the heart of the problem is a mistake in people’s basic thinking. It is partly this: Man does not know himself. He does not realise that he is the being he is. He imagines himself to be what in reality he is not. He supposes that he is a material being in the first instance, rather than a spiritual one.

It is easy to see how he falls into this mistake. After all, he is surrounded all his life by material things and so he assumes that he is just material and earthly as the things round about him are. Besides, he is annoyed when he is told by religious people that he is more than merely a body. He scorns the suggestion that he has a soul and is put off when he is informed that he might have to live somewhere after death.

This is the first source of man’s deep and almost incurable unhappiness. He does not know himself and so he imagines himself to be what he is not.

First Step: Know Ourselves

The first step towards happiness is taken when we come to know ourselves to be more than a physical body and when we see that we were made for higher things than this world can give us. It is a step towards happiness to recognise that we have a spiritual part to us. As well as matter, we are mind. As well as a body we have a soul. In addition to instincts we have willpower, and conscience and a sense of accountability for how we live.

If we were only ‘animals’ of a more developed kind, this would not be the case. Material stimulus would then be all that we needed to lead us to complete happiness. But society is discovering by painful experience that to live for bodily appetite does not give the happiness which was expected. When pleasure is over it leaves pain if conscience can tell us that our pleasure was stolen.

To say that we have a conscience is to go far to explaining the widespread unhappiness which we witness today all round us. Conscience is a difficult thing to live with even when we give it its place. This is much more so when men live, or try to live, without reckoning on its importance at all. Conscience in man is a tiger, which growls and mauls him inwardly. It is a fire that burns within him and cannot be extinguished by mere willpower. Conscience cannot be silenced by ignoring it or by wishing it away.

Those who search for happiness and yet live in defiance of their conscience are hoping for the impossible. The art of being happy begins only when we have realised that there can be no happiness until the conscience is at rest.

But how can we get the conscience to be at rest? The first answer which suggests itself to us all is this: we must be good. This is an answer to man’s problem which appeals to us all and which sounds obvious. It is mankind’s age-old answer to the age-old difficulty which he finds when he takes seriously the fact of his own conscience. It sounds right. ‘If I do well I shall have a good conscience and so live happily.’ It is not that this solution is wrong so much that it is impossible to us in our present state. For one thing people do not like being good! But even when we are ‘good’, two difficulties remain which our consciences soon remind us of. What about those times in our life when we were not good? And, can we be certain when we are good that we are good enough? Man might be happy in being good if only he could convince himself that he is sufficiently good. But the more honest we are the more we know that we are not.

To tell people to be good is what bad preachers do every day. One hears them on their radio programmes early in the morning at late at night. One pictures them in their pulpits on a Sunday. It is the downfall of a nation when its preachers tell men to be good.

Of course, there are many more who are telling people to forget goodness and just to get on with the business of being happy. Their message is something like this. ‘Goodness is boring. What we all really want is excitement and pleasure.’ People can fill in the space marked ‘pleasure’ with everything they want. It does not matter to those who are promoting the message to ‘get happy’ how people do this. It can be by drink or by drugs or by all the other hundred and one things advertised to fill the eye and the stomach.

But the problem with all these promoters of pleasures is that they are not, as we said at the start, making society really happy at all. Millions of money are spent every week on going after happiness and yet people are no nearer to getting it than when they started.

The bad preacher and the promoter of pleasure both have this in common, that they are completely failing to make people happy. The bad preacher fails because his message to ‘be good’ is just too difficult. The fact seems to be that nothing is harder for mankind than to be good. To be good is what nobody really can be and so to tell man to be good is only to mock him and to send him away in despair.

If anyone should ask us why people today look so unhappy, we can only say that it is because they are the victims of a sort of cruel conspiracy on the part of bad preachers on the one hand and greedy sellers of fleshly goods on the other. Between these two, people today are trapped and caught in a vice so tight that they are suffocating. Small wonder if people are unhappy! All they hear these days in the marketplace of life are the cries of merchants peddling their wares: ‘Buy pleasures here! Buy pleasures there!’ But these pleasures do not all carry a government health warning to say to the buyer that the end of them is bitterness, sorrow and a bad conscience.

Tortured as men are today by fear of what they have done in eating the forbidden fruit of lust and passion, they cower away from the light. Those few brave souls who do in these days venture to hear a preacher usually hear nothing but a dry homily on how to be good. No wonder churches are crumbling and lie empty when the troubled society all around normally finds there no message to heal their wounded spirits or calm their fears!

The first step to happiness is to know ourselves, as we have said. And to know ourselves is to know that we are not good and have very little interest in becoming good. Scarcely one in ten thousand is trying to be good, or is asking how he or she can become good. There must be a second step before true happiness can be found. Something better and more wonderful must be known by man to make him really happy.

Second Step: Know God

The second step to happiness is to seek God till we find him. When we find him we arrive at true happiness forever. Seeking God is not finding him. But it is necessary to seek him if we are ever going to find him. We shall know when we have found God because then we shall be truly at rest. Our heart will be full. Our mind will be persuaded. Our conscience will be at peace within us. Those who find God come to the real secret of all things. They know him; they love him; they enjoy him; they adore him.

When we are first told to seek God we become afraid. That is not altogether surprising because God is not much talked about in modern society. Those who do mention God usually say something foolish or unkind about him. That is a great pity because God is real and he can be known by man in this present life.

That is not pious talk but sober truth. It must be correct. Let us show how. Three arguments may suffice to demonstrate that people can know and love God. First, think of the Christian martyrs. They might have saved their lives by denying what they knew about God. But they preferred to die than to deny what they knew of him. To them it was better to lose their life than to lose God by sinning against him.

Then, look at the stories of wonderful conversions, of which there are many thousands in print. How else are we to explain the way in which blasphemers were changed in one day into devout believers and sinners into saints? It is the power of God which produces this complete change in people’s lives.

The third argument is from the rapturous experiences of happiness which Christians sometimes have had and still do have. Some of the diaries of eminent (and not so eminent) believers show that their writers occasionally experience in their lives a sort of heaven on earth. This happiness is not earthly but supernatural. It flows from a knowledge of God and an enjoyment of him in this life.

When we seek God we ask for him first to accept our persons. This is where those preachers go wrong who tell men to be good. They overlook the fact that those to whom they preach have never been good – at least, not good enough. But God will not accept our service or our prayers until we ourselves, as persons, are first acceptable to him. Conscience, if we stop and listen to its voice, tells us all that we are not good enough for a holy God. Poor troubled men and women today need to know how they can have acceptance with God when they are vividly aware of their own evil past.

Seeking God always starts at that very point: ‘How can I, who am so bad, be acceptable to God?’ Those who never faced this question almost certainly do not know God as yet. The gateway to God and to heaven is right here in this simple question: ‘Can God forgive people who are as bad as I have been?’ To stand on the threshold of this question is to have taken the first step. At this point a man has seen himself for what he truly is. He has realised that he is not yet fit for God. Happiness may not come consciously when we have taken this first step, but we are on the right path towards finding happiness once we have come to this point. Wonderful as it is to relate, God has done something for man so that man may be accepted and loved by Him. We call it the good news, or gospel. In a word it is this. God has come down to earth in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. Christ gave himself for us on the cross. He died for us to remove our sin. He rose again from the dead to be our living Saviour. He lives today and invites all men to believe in him and find true peace.

To believe in Christ is to know God. It is the second step to which we referred before. Once a man has come to this point his happiness is sure and certain forever.

It is not possible for any person to be inwardly satisfied till he or she knows God. The reason is simple. God made us for himself. Our heart is restless, as a great Christian once said, until it finds its rest in Him. Neither money nor sport nor marriage nor work nor pleasure can fill the heart of man. But God can fill it when we come to know him by faith in his Son Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Have you got this happiness of which we speak? If not, would it not be worth your while taking two steps to get it? W
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