Our Latest eVotional
Happy are the people whose God is the LORD.
It is surely one of the more misunderstood phrases in American culture — “the pursuit of happiness”. The phrase is enshrined in the second sentence of our fledgling nation’s Declaration of Independence, where among “certain inalienable rights” are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Many years ago I was visiting a young friend in a rehab hospital facing up to his drug addiction. While at the hospital I talked with a psychiatrist about my friend’s addiction. The psychiatrist told me that after emigrating from Germany to America he learned about the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” The psychiatrist said that as a newcomer to America he knew he would never lack for patients with problems to treat. He explained that people living in pursuit of happiness would be very unhappy people. The years have told me the psychiatrist was right.
But the author of that phrase in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, meant something very different than many people take it to mean today. Jefferson followed in a long line of ethical thinkers who understood the pursuit of happiness to be the pursuit of virtue. For Jefferson and his compatriots, happiness was understood as being good rather than feeling good. In a letter to a former secretary, William Short, Jefferson said he considered “Virtue the foundation of happiness.” (Papers of Thomas Jefferson) Jefferson, like our nation’s other Founders, was convinced that the pursuit of virtue was indispensable to a nation’s happiness.
Historians tell us Jefferson borrowed “the pursuit of happiness” from the English philosopher John Locke. Writing in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke distinguished between “real” and “imaginary” happiness, between “true pleasures” and “false pleasures.” Locke warned that happiness would not come from property, pleasure, or the satisfaction of desire, but happiness would come only from the pursuit of virtue. By Locke’s analysis, a bank robber celebrating his success with a friend at the pub is happy, but not really. The robber is experiencing but an “imaginary” happiness without any “true pleasure.”
John Locke had drawn upon Greek and Roman philosophers who equated a genuinely happy life with the virtuous life. Locke especially looked to Aristotle who devoted more pages to the subject of happiness than any writer before modern times. Aristotle maintained that virtue is the only foundation for a happy life. He said that happiness is the “activity of the soul expressing itself.” (Nicomachean Ethics)
Locke also acknowledged his debt to the Roman philosopher Cicero who said, in his treatise On Moral Ends, that we should eliminate pleasure from any discussion of happiness. Happiness, Cicero thought, has to do with the practice of virtue. “Indeed,” Cicero said, “no good should be declared supreme if it is lacking virtue, since nothing can be superior to that.” Cicero even suggested that a virtuous person might be happy while being tortured.
Look at today’s advertising, media, entertainment and education! We are a people madly in pursuit of happiness, but happiness without pursuit of virtue! “Do whatever makes you happy”, is the culture’s cliché. “If it feels good, do it!”
The psychiatrist in the rehab hospital was right! He would never lack for patients in a culture in pursuit of pleasure without virtue. Today we face critical choices as a nation. Let’s forget about what makes us feel good or momentarily happy! Let’s ask what is the right thing, the virtuous thing! Yet again the Scriptures show us the way: “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD”. Here is happiness “true” and “solid”.
Grace and peace,
You will bring water from rock for the community.
We take our name from the Bible’s story of the archetypal Exodus journey during which the people of God came to a place in the desert wilderness where there was no water. Yet, it was there in a hostile wilderness that they experienced God’s provision of water for them and leadership into a new future. We trust in a God who still provides, renews and leads His people.
Rooted in the Word
We are a ministry of Christian renewal rooted in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as He reveals Himself through His Written Word, the Bible. Through the Written Word we encounter the Living Word in the incomprehensible wonder of His love. We are mindful that knowledge, even of the Bible, “puffs up” while love “builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). We engage the Scriptures seeking to love more and know more of love. We purpose to search out God’s Word with both our minds and our hearts.
Ecumenical in Outlook
We honor all followers of Christ who have gone before us, and all who are among us now. We have much to learn and receive from all who have a lived experience of God’s transforming love. By reaching out to embrace the universal Body of Christ we strive to balance orthodoxy (right belief) and right living (orthopraxy).
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
(Rupertus Meldenius, 1582 – 1651)
Experiencing the Living God
We thirst to know God and not just to know about Him. We long for a living experience of God. We believe that God breaks into our world on the holy ground of His Word, and seek through His Spirit a living encounter with Him there. We daily aim to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength (Mark 12:30).
The arms of God be around my shoulders,
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbor in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all, my entire being. Amen.
—Fursey of Yarmouth, 6th century Irish monk