In Toy Story, one of the first big scenes in the movie is when Andy first challenges Buzz to prove that he can fly. This is just minutes after the whole group meets Buzz for the first time, and Andy has already realized that Buzz truly believes he’s a “Space-Ranger.” Buzz, confident in his skills, steps close to the edge of the bed and boldly dives off! Thankfully for him, a series of very fortunate events unfold that make it look as if he is, in fact, flying around the room. It’s important to note that this could have gone in a totally different direction! Later on in the movie, when Buzz is slowly coming to terms with who and what he is, he attempts to fly one more time. This time as he leaps off the second-floor railing at Sid’s house, he promptly falls to the floor below and crashes to the floor where one of his arms pops off. Buzz’s pursuit of confirming he was truly a Space-Ranger and not just a toy led him to make decisions that ended up hurting him. In the same way, sometimes the things we pursue in life lead us to make decisions that can result in pain. One such pursuit can be found in our nation’s Declaration of Independence in what our fore-fathers call our “God-given rights: Life, Liberty, and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Happiness itself is not a bad emotion to experience or one we should avoid, but it should not be our goal in life to seek out happiness. What can the pursuit of happiness lead us to?
The pursuit of happiness can lead us to danger. To see this in scripture, one doesn’t have to look far from the beginning. In Genesis 13-19, we see the narrative of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his spiraling moral decisions that led him to destruction. In Genesis 13:5-11, when Abraham, the leader of the family, gave Lot a choice of land, Lot selfishly chose the more abundant land for himself. At this point, he decided to live near the wicked city of Sodom (13:12-13.) In Genesis 14:1-16, while Lot was living in Sodom, a great war broke out where nations attacked Sodom. The conquering Kings came in and took Lot and his family. Abraham had to step in and rescue his nephew from the captives. Where did Lot move back to? Sodom. In Genesis 19:1-3, Lot while now living within the city of Sodom itself, invites two angels to stay in his home. He does this because he knows if they stay outside in the city square, terrible things could happen to them. At some point, you might think Lot would ask himself if living in a city of this much wickedness and sin is worth the land he was able to have?
Lot’s pursuit of happiness in having the best land in the area ultimately led to his family falling apart and shame being brought on all of them. How can our pursuit of having the best or the most lead us into situations that are less than ideal? Has this ever happened to you before or have you witnessed it happening to others? Happiness is not found in having the best or most, but true joy can be found in contentment (Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”)
The pursuit of happiness can also lead us to sorrow. Would it surprise you to hear that over 1/3 of lottery winners will declare out-right bankruptcy within 3-5 years of their winnings? Money, at times, can bring you small bouts of happiness, but the constant pursuit of it can once again lead us into situations where we make bad decisions we wouldn’t usually make. The obvious example in scripture of this type of blunder is found in the life of Judas. Judas was concerned with money throughout his time with Jesus. John 12:6 says, “Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” The pursuit of what he thought would bring him happiness ultimately lead him to sell out Jesus for a handful of coins (Matthew 26:14-16, “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on, he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.”) Judas’ constant fiscal greed continued to motivate him to do increasingly worse things to gain more of what he wanted. When pursuing happiness through the means of money, possessions, or anything material, we can be drawn to a dark place where doing and saying certain things that never crossed our minds before, become tolerated and accepted.
Lastly, the pursuit of happiness can lead you to disappointment and/or vanity. Solomon was in a better position than anyone to pursue happiness to its greatest extent. He left no stone unturned in his indulgence of the proverbial pursuit of “wine, women, and song” and more. The books of Eccl., Prov., 1 Kings, and 2 Chron. reveal all of Solomon’s pursuits. After each endeavor, Solomon had a favorite expression which summed up the whole matter: Eccl. 2:11, “All is vanity and striving after the wind.” Solomon pursued happiness from the abundance of food and wine, happiness for countless relationships, happiness from endless money, happiness from the pursuit of all wisdom, happiness from his own fame and power, and even happiness from the abundance of his possessions. Still, his conclusion on the matter is “All is vanity (useless).” In fact, he uses this phrase over thirty times in Ecclesiastes. So, what does Solomon ultimately find joy/value in? “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Eccl. 12:13-14.
It’s clear to see what the pursuit of happiness can lead us to if that’s the only thing we’re concerned with. On the flip side, what does the pursuit of attaining joy lead us to? Scripture tells us we receive joy in a relationship with Jesus, God’s Word, and in doing His will. Whereas happiness can lead us to difficult times and problematic consequences, a pursuit of joy can lead us to the greatest joy, joy in eternity.