The Good Life

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, June 14, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

When writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson directly quoted John Locke’s phrase “life, liberty, and property” but substituted “the pursuit of happiness” in place of property. What was behind this? As I mentioned last week, this did not destroy the enshrinement of property; rather, he wanted to make a statement that we are free to pursue the good life.

There are basically two kinds of freedom: libertine and eudemonistic. Eudemonistic is a big word that entails a pursuit of the good life, hence “pursuit of happiness.” Libertine freedom usually means casting off moral restraint and doing whatever gives you pleasure. But I use it in the sense of libertarian freedom: a person is completely free to choose those actions which do no harm to another or impede on another’s life, liberty, or property. Libertarian freedom implies the ability to make choices that can be harmful or destructive, as long as that harm or destruction does not spill over onto another person. I will call this the libertarian minimum. The state has a responsibility to guarantee this. No one can take your life, liberty, or property without repercussions from the law. This is freedom, but it is far from the good life.

The good life cannot be guaranteed to anyone. No use of force can bring it about, because it is the result of people’s choice to follow God or not. Government can only give us the opportunity for the good life by securing the libertarian minimum guarantee, or as Jefferson put it, “the pursuit of happiness.” To ask the state to give us the good life is asking too much. The state guarantees our freedoms, but Jesus sets us free to pursue the good.

John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Each person must be allowed to take the risks and accept the consequences of his own use of freedom. If someone chooses a path of self-destruction, he must walk it alone. You eat the fruit of your own labor. If you choose a life of sin, remember the wages of sin is death. But remember, they are your wages, honest pay for your own deeds.

Happiness is elusive. If we make happiness the object of our pursuit, we will never get it. We will always be focused on happiness and highly aware of our lack of it, since there is always room for more. But the oddest truth that life on earth has taught the wise is that happiness comes to those who live for something other than themselves. Mother Theresa was happy.

How many parents put in their eighteen years waiting for the time when the kids would grow up? That day would bring freedom to travel, a clean house, peace and quiet. But when Junior graduates and moves out, parents always cry. When they look back, they realize they were happy all along. Perhaps they even wish for days gone by. It doesn’t always work that way, but it often does.

People have been searching for the good life for a long time. Many people have been sidetracked by thinking that if they had more things that would make them happy. But happiness isn’t in bigger steaks, clothes with a higher thread count, or $3 “smart” water. The Ancients knew that you cannot make a god of your belly or sex or wine because those things can’t ever really satisfy. They are all good things, but they cease to be good if you make a god out of them. They make good servants but bad masters.

Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Surely, I can exist on bread alone. My body can survive, but I can’t LIVE. For those of us who have come to trust what Jesus says as the Truth of God, we know that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15). Rather, we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Only Jesus can give you the good life. “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). I know that many people object to this truth. They feel that God has let them down. They know that life is meant to be better than this. What has gone wrong? Sadly, if people limited their freedom to the libertarian minimum, they could only harm themselves. But a life spent serving oneself always leads to harm for others, too. You and I have used our freedom in a way that has hurt someone else. But Jesus came to reverse this. He came to redeem each person, to change them in a substantial way in order that they can pursue the good life again.

True life, the good life, comes to those who don’t seek happiness but rather they seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. It sounds like a paradox, but it is exactly what I and the other Christians I know have experienced. Jesus is knocking; open the door.

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