Deuteronomy 28 and The Pursuit of Happiness
In our modern world steeped in the supposed wisdom of wellness gurus, mindfulness, and all manner of self-improvement manuals, we have come to accept that the most fundamental purpose of existence is the pursuit of happiness. So entrenched in our modern-consumerist culture has this became that we assume that when one is not happy, the only way to remedy this lack of joy and bliss is to seek out whatever product we are taught we need by the heralds of the good life that now saturate our lives as they preach their secular homily from the Gospel of High Capitalism.
The Bible however teaches no such thing, and instead teaches that it is happiness that will pursue us if we would only pursue God and his Torah.
Deuteronomy 28:1 puts it this way;
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth, all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your god.
King David, who would have had many opportunities to be unhappy given how stressful being a king was, also knew this and wrote in Psalm 23:6;
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And if their remained any doubt, Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:33,
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well
Of late, there has emerged within parts of our society a pushback against the notion that the pursuit of happiness constitutes life’s ultimate purpose. This trend, while not yet mainstream but while no means minor, has occurred within a broader culture saturated with material wealth yet existing within a hollow space of spiritual vacuity. The ephemeral dopamine rushes that we have often now conflated with happiness and purpose in life have, for some, been revealed as the empty voids of nothing they truly are.
As many now comprehend the existential void western civilization seems to be heading towards, it becomes no surprise that people like Jordan Peterson have risen as an almost messianic figure. Speaking on happiness, the famed Doctor of Psychology has said, “It’s all vey well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you’re unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it’s fleeting and unpredictable. It’s not something to aim – because it’s not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you’re unhappy? Then you’re a failure. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. It’s just not going to do the job”.
Of course, it is not that happiness is bad, but there is something to what Dr Peterson is saying, and it is something apparently young men are craving to hear. The point being made though is not some new revelation, bur rather, the re-discovery of an ancient wisdom that became lost to western civilization as it became more wealthy and more secular. What Dr Peterson and others have taught is that one should pursue something truly meaningful, something that requires responsibility and brings with it a sense of adventure, and all the potential turmoil adventures often involve, and then happiness will come. To put it another way, happiness is a by-product of meaningful action, or as Mr Peterson would put it, happiness comes from accepting the burdens of a meaningful life.
I fear it is something the Church is lacking as its message becomes more “relevant” and Jesus is presented more as a wellness guru and less as an invitation to take up the cross. One should never forget that when Jesus commanded his followers to take up the cross, it was not an invitation to a life of perpetual joy and bliss, but one of meaningful struggle and hardships. If young men are flocking to Jordan Peterson, as they are, then one might correctly predict that if a Church leader stood up one day and offered his flock the adventure of a lifetime, one of hardships and trials but one of cosmic purpose and meaning, one might assume that young men would happily return to the Church.
While nobody likes going through hard times, and some do go through some truly terrible times, we are promised that the reward for persevering is worth it. In fact, as it says in Corinthians, the reward will be unlike anything we know.
1 Corinthians 2:9 - No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.