"Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do."
Pharrell’s ‘happy’ probably won’t win the Nobel prize for literature, but it does express what most people in today’s society seem to want. We just want to be happy and to enjoy happy days. Happiness is the ultimate goal – but what is it?
The US Declaration of Independence puts it like this: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ But how do we pursue happiness? That is the great quest for Solomon — who so far has tried wine, women and song (plus money, education, work and art) and yet found that the burden of eternity outweighs them all.
In this month’s Ecclesiastes passage (3:12-15), Solomon summarises what he has learned so far. And it has a surprisingly contemporary ring. ‘I know there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.’ To eat and drink — these are the tokens of a contented and a happy life. Think about how often you not only eat and drink, but you think about eating and drinking! Solomon adds to this the joy of satisfying work. Given that he had earlier stated that the pursuit of food and drink was meaningless and work futile, this is a significant change in attitude.
So what makes the difference? Because he sees it as a gift of God. When secularism is replaced by theism, pessimism turns to optimism and human autonomy to human faith. His life motto becomes Carpe Diem — seize the day and enjoy life. Is that not a great motto for us at any time?
But then Solomon seems to spoil it by telling us that nobody can add to or take away from the things that God does. ‘Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.’ It seems that even today there is nothing new under the sun!
But this is not despair. It is saying that whilst earth is passing and futile, true security (on which happiness depends) can be found in God’s sovereignty and grace. God’s action is permanent, it is effective and it is complete. His actions are totally secure and sure. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ (See Romans 8). Our happiness is to be built on the solid rock of Christ and his Word, not the shifting sands of contemporary culture. This happiness includes the fear of God, but it is not the craven fear of the despot, but reverence, respect and awe for God. That is where our sense of beauty and the eternal is satisfied — because ultimately it is a sense of, and for, God. Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
One final thing — at New Year or at funerals or other great moments in our lives, we often think of the passing of time and the circle of life. In v.15 Solomon addresses this by reminding us that it is God who keeps the cycles of history going. Things are going on a pre-determined course — but it is not Marxist fatalism, or human greed, or some mysterious force, but God who holds our times in his hands.
This is where true happiness (or as Jesus would put it, ‘blessedness’ — see the Beatitudes) is found. In Him. You are not an insignificant insect, crawling from one sad annihilation to another. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you are a child of God being prepared for an eternal home (John 14:1-6; 2 Cor. 4).
The Puritan pastor Thomas Watson wrote, ‘Eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset; eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.’ Instead of eternity being a burden which prevents our enjoyment of life, it becomes in Christ an opportunity to enjoy life. This is so much more than worldly happiness; this is real joy. Something which cannot be taken away. Real Christianity is not ‘pie in the sky when you die’ but ‘steak on your plate while you wait’. May you know real happiness and joy in Christ.
[This article was first published in the Septemeber 2018 edition of The Record]