A friend from high school recently posted a quote attributed to Richard Bach from Jonathon Livingston Seagull fame.
What an appealing yet completely dichotomous notion. If our sole goal is to make ourselves happy, we acknowledge that we are the center of the universe. In the long run, the universe – and all that is in it – exists to make us happy. Period.
Babies act as if they are the center. Cry – get milk, affection, clean diapers. Men act sweet & caring to get attention, affirmation, and yes, sex. So in effect, in our pursuit of self happiness, we will act in ways which try to manipulate the world so that we curry favor, respect, and love for our own benefit – to make us happy. For example, we volunteer to “give something back” yet often advertise our activities so we achieve fame which makes us happy. We care about impressing others only to make us happy, and this volunteering thing is self-promotion. Sounds good, but ….
We don’t always act that way. To continue the volunteer theme, I’ll agree that we do so to make us happy but also for other reasons. The more altruistic may do it so that they feel good about themselves, justify their own station in life (mitigate their guilty feelings), or even believe that it is necessary to earn or contribute to their salvation or sanctification. We are still doing it in some way that makes us happy but suddenly we aren’t quite the center of the universe anymore.
“Whoa. What’s with the salvation stuff you snuck in there? And you first said we think we are the center of the universe.” Yep. You see, somewhere in our fallen nature, we still really do know that we aren’t the center of the universe. Why? Because we do care about something outside of us. We do feel guilt, shame, frustration, etc., which we ought not feel if we truly believed we were the center of the universe (and could create our own reality and all that new age stuff). We strive to achieve something – wealth, stuff, self-actualization, health, yoga, power, stuff – to make us feel better about ourselves. And unless we are psychopaths, we are conflicted by our desire to the center of the universe – you know, “be like God” (Gen 3:5) and feeling like we ought to live by some moral code written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Hence the dichotomy and the frustration and the never ending search for something.
So, how do we solve the dichotomy? Come to grips that we aren’t the center of the universe. God is. And we aren’t God. And realize that we exist not to make ourselves happy, that is to glorify oneself.
The first question in the Westminster Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”