There is a recurring theme in the Scriptures: “Blessed (happy) is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Both corporate and individual happiness has little to do with “hap” and everything to do with recognizing God as the center of personal and national life. This is what the Founding Fathers of the United States understood and wrote into the charter of our nation.
In the Declaration of Independence we find these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (emphasis mine).
The pursuit of happiness is a God-given right for all human beings. This phrase in the Declaration of Independence was taken from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason within a month of Thomas Jefferson’s penning the Declaration of Independence. Mason’s statement read:
“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Is this phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” grounded in a French Enlightenment metaphysic where man is the center of the universe and everything revolves around him? Modern atheists would so argue. But there is another explanation that is not so self-centered.
One of the main influences on the Founding Fathers of the United States was the English Lawyer and legal scholar Sir William Blackstone (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780). His Commentaries on the Laws of England, published from 1765-1769, was, at the time, the defining work on the concept of common law. The Founders of the USA were immersed in Blackstone. He wrote:
“For he [the Creator] has so intimately connected, so inseparably woven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, the latter cannot be obtained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter” (Siris: Blackstone on Pursuit of Happiness June 11, 2008, emphasis mine).
The concept of the pursuit of happiness does not come from an atheistic, man-centered metaphysic, but a biblical, Theistic, God-centered metaphysic. God is the order of the universe. There is objective truth, goodness (justice), and beauty. This reality creates the possibility for honesty, integrity, the dignity of each individual, justice in laws, institutions, and structures of societies.
God’s laws are eternal. They are written into the universe as well as into the Word. It was God who connected a person’s happiness with conformity to his eternal order.
Upon his death and resurrection, Christ instituted the advancement of his Kingdom. In Matthew 28:18-20, he announced his coronation as King and gives the marching orders for his people. He says “teaching them [nations] to obey all that I have commanded.”
Herein is true happiness. Faithfulness to Christ and all that he commands is the source of all joy and happiness in the true sense of the word.
As we may find ourselves in bad hap, difficult circumstances, we need not be unhappy. We can be faithful to God and his ordinances in the midst of any and all circumstances!
Overall, happiness is not primarily a good feeling; it is the satisfaction of a life well lived. It is not trusting in oneself and one’s own cleverness; it is trusting in the living God. It is not having good hap or good circumstances; it is living in faith and obedience to God no matter what the circumstances. It is not just focused on an individual, but seeks to bring the institutions, structures, and laws of a nation in line with God’s nature and the creation order of the universe. This is the pursuit of happiness!
-Darrow L. Miller