According to the Bible, one of the problems with human beings is that we are born with a displaced sense of longing and desire. Instead of seeking for God, sin has thoroughly corrupted our personality such that we look anywhere but to our Creator for fulfilment, purpose, and peace:
The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one (Ps 14:2-3)
So, what does the LORD see when observing humanity in their native condition? He sees a race estranged from him; lacking all understanding of the glories of life; and he sees contaminated character. Worse, human beings are completely ignorant of their true condition and cannot even fathom it!
How does this take practical expression?
Primarily in how we choose to live.
Most people are born into the world believing that it is possible to find lasting happinesses here on earth. This is particularly true of young people who, endued with youth and health, often are completely persuaded they know the secret that has evaded their elders. And yet, while generations have come and gone, every generation seems intent on repeating the same error. Every generation believes it has the formula for the “good life”: sexual gratification, power and authority, money, holidays, entertainment, food, friends, family and parties.
It is part of the madness of the human condition that the very things man hangs his hat on for contentment, are the very things that not only deceive him, but often bring him much pain. It is a tragic farce. For either we believe we are not happy because we have not enough of the things in the above list, and therefore only by getting more will we be happy, or, we believe that we are unhappy because we are missing something on the list.
But, always, upon getting these things, we find they do not bring the promised fulfilment. Mortgage payments sour the experience of home-ownership; parties often end in tears or retching over the toilet; family can bring us much grief; sexual gratification is over in a flash leaving bitter remorse and often deep guilt. And on it goes. There is nothing on earth in which we can say, “This is joy, unsullied and perfect”.
The truth is, to find any kind of peace and joy, man must do something which he often only vaguely, dimly grasps: he must search for his life in the last place he expects to find it. He must seek for it in God. In holiness. In righteousness. In Christ. He must submit himself to God – wholly out of obedience to him – and then, in an amazing outpouring of God’s great mercy, he will find discover himself truly happy with a joy that is not only deeply fulfilling, but also pure because it flows straight from the untarnished glory of Christ.
This great truth has been articulated in many ways:
Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee… –St. Augustine
What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. – C. S. Lewis
To make it quite practical I have a very simple test. After I have explained the way of Christ to somebody I say “Now, are you ready to say that you are a Christian?” And they hesitate. And then I say, “What’s the matter? Why are you hesitating?” And so often people say, “I don’t feel like I’m good enough yet. I don’t think I’m ready to say I’m a Christian now.” And at once I know that I have been wasting my breath. They are still thinking in terms of themselves. They have to do it. It sounds very modest to say, “Well, I don’t think I’m good enough,” but it’s a very denial of the faith. The very essence of the Christian faith is to say that He is good enough and I am in Him. As long as you go on thinking about yourself like that and saying, “I’m not good enough; Oh, I’m not good enough,” you are denying God – you are denying the gospel – you are denying the very essence of the faith and you will never be happy. You think you’re better at times and then again you will find you are not as good at other times than you thought you were. You will be up and down forever. How can I put it plainly? It doesn’t matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell. It does not matter if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin. It does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God at all. You are no more hopeless than the most moral and respectable person in the world. – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
And just for good measure:
So who does not want to be happy? We all do, but wanting something is not the same as finding it. We all strive after happiness, but how many people actually find true, lasting happiness? Of course for the Christian, we know this is a foolish quest.
Search for joy and it will elude you. Search for God wholeheartedly and you will be found by him, and happiness will be thrown in as a by-product. – C. S. Lewis.