Happiness and Ethics

My readings from yesterday and today in Deuteronomy were both ethical in nature. God lays down laws for his people that go against what they might naturally think or feel or do. His desire is that they recognize His Truth, and in so doing alter their behavior accordingly.

So, I began asking some co-workers questions about how they make ethical decisions. Their answers seemed to compete between two desires... the desire to be nice to people on the one hand, and the desire to be consistent with their atheistic world views on the other. The result was a sort of mish-mashed relativism, where they will say that PERSONALLY they would not, say, kill a pregnant woman to save a group of ten other people, but they also would not say that it is wrong for someone else to do so.

At heart, they believe the key goal in life is to be happy, to be content with decisions, to enjoy life. Because they are young and educated and financially stable, this seems within grasp for them. And yet I feel they will struggle when the storms come with the question of whether their life has value and purpose.

In Augustine's Confessions, he is using lies and rhetoric (before he became a Christian) to gain status and power in the world. While doing so, he comes across a drunk beggar in the street:

Sighing, I spoke to the friends around me of the many sorrows that flowed from such madness. I was dragging the burden of my unhappiness under the spur of ambition, and, by dragging it, increasing it at the same time. Despite all our efforts, we still aimed only to attain the very happiness that this beggar had reached before us-and there was a grim chance that we should never attain it! For what he had obtained through a few coins gotten by his begging, I was still scheming for by many a wretched and torturous turning, namely, the joy of a passing bliss. He had not gained true joy, but at the same time, with all my ambitions, I was seeking one that was even more untrue.

This caused me to recall why Christian morality is and should be so entirely different from the world. Our message is that our base desires and strivings are essentially false. Though our natural instinct is to sacrifice only at the altar of self-worship through pleasure, it is not what is best or healthiest for our true joy.

Instead, we must first recognize an Objective Truth outside of our contained little lives, and submit our moral choices to the guidelines that flow from that moral truth. For the Christian, this means submitting moral decisions to the prism of God's glory; we find true joy by responding to the good news with faith and repentence, by living to the glory of Him who has saved us, and by entering into His joy and rest when our time here is done.

How much more consistent, how much more beautiful is this picture! The strivings of the world are but begging for coins to get drunk, but the life of the Christian is one of submission and obedience for the purpose of greatest joy in God's glorification.

Keep these things in mind when you are tempted by the things of this world. Remember, as Steven Curtis Chapman sings, that your chains are gone.

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