Aristotle stated that what men seek for its own sake is happiness. Now in talking about happiness, Aristotle did not mean a good feeling. He meant living in conformity to reality. For us, we equate happiness with a feeling and having a good time.
But we can all agree he’s right. We really don’t want to be miserable. Now I think some of us think we deserve to be miserable, but we also celebrate those times of joy. However, it could be that we’ve chased after the feeling of happiness instead of true happiness in regards to holiness.
Do we want to have that feeling of happiness as we call it? Yes we do. Yet, we reject holiness. Why? Because deep down, we really don’t think it’ll make us happy. We reject holiness as that which gets in the way of happiness, which shows how far we’ve fallen from the ancient worldview. If you were an ancient, virtue was something commendable. Virtue was seen as a key to living the good life. For us, morality seems to get in the way of living a good life.
We want to say that’s only for the non-Christian, but if we were honest with ourselves, we’d find that we are the same way. We don’t want to be holy like that either. We are very quick to excuse our own little pet sins because they will make us happy and if we gave them up, then we wouldn’t be happy.
We are creatures that don’t like change also. Holiness requires it though. It requires that we repent of our sinful ways and go and live a proper way. Throughout the book of Leviticus, we hear God telling the people “Be holy, because I am holy.” We might think that has changed in the NT, but it hasn’t. Hebrews 12 says God disciplines us to make us holy and that without holiness, no one will see the Lord.
I thought about this also with a friend asking me last night about the afterlife for unbelievers and how I said that the wrath of God could be actually love to the unbelievers but they experience it as wrath. He told me that unbelievers are separated from God right now and we don’t think we’re experiencing wrath. What’s different there?
I think about that and think the problem could be we are so fallen we don’t even realize we are fallen. We actually think our state is normal and we’ve fooled ourselves in that regards simply because we do not have a picture of holiness around us. Yet when holiness enters, things change. How many jokes have been made about the family turning off the TV set and hiding some of the movies they have before the preacher comes over to visit?
Also, part of our understanding of morality is because the world has been Christianized. I was talking to a friend of mine today and telling her that the idea of seeing a girl as simply an object in a marriage seems so bizarre to me. The truth is though, this is the way it would have been often in ancient times. When Paul wrote Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, he wrote something earth-shattering. We have grown up with the gospel so long that we’ve been familiarized with us and its shocking aspects no longer shock us.
In the ancient society, a female child could willingly be left for dead and the greatest philosophers even approved of this. Christianity changed all of that. One reason the Christian population grew so fast is because of their treatment of women. They opposed the above practice and opposed abortion as well meaning they had more women. More women meant more reproduction.
Thus, even if one isn’t a Christian, one can often live in a world where the Christian ethic is the norm of society and internalize that anyway apart from the metaphysical foundation that it has. The truth is though that that ethic is something that radically changed the world when it was unleashed.
Maybe if we really grasped that holiness, we would see how far we have fallen. In fact, for the people that are normally seen as saints, they would be the first ones to tell you of how aware they were of their own sinfulness. The closer they got to God in our eyes, the more they realized how far away they were.
Holiness though, if Christianity is true, is essential to our happiness and we need to be in a position where we want it. Wanting it though will mean abandoning sin in our lives and admitting our own past sins. It’s not a price we want to pay, but do we really want to be happy? If God is the source of all joy, we will not find happiness on our terms. It will only be on his.