Posts Tagged ‘Blaise Pascal’

Do you want to be happy? It’s not a trick question. I’ll give you a hint. The answer begins with y and ends in e s.

Blaise Pascal, the mathematician and Christian philosopher, put it this way:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves

The interesting thing is that you’ll see that Pascal doesn’t judge this desire for happiness. It is simply something that is, a basic condition of man. If we’re human, our quest for happiness is a part of everything we do.

We all have to face the question of what this pursuit of happiness means, sooner or later, and I’ve had to face it in a particular way myself. In 1992 I woke up one Saturday morning with a strange pain between my shoulders which I couldn’t get rid of. I started to feel really sick and gradually weaker and weaker. I was rushed off to hospital but they could do nothing. My last memory of that day was being wheeled somewhere in a rush on a hospital bed while a nurse frantically pumped air into my lungs. When I woke up three days later, everything had changed completely.

This, then, was the issue I faced after that: could I be happy, after all that had happened? What are the things in which I found my happiness and were they now forever out of reach?

What became clear was this: there must be something deeper that offers happiness beyond stuff and mere physical gratification. The road to happiness is only a dead end if it can’t lead there no matter what the circumstances. CS Lewis expressed it well when he said:

…it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

This is the crux of it. Our desire for happiness, if we admit it, is a deep and demanding thing, but we habitually make it something light. We are far too easily pleased. The things and people we look for happiness in are by their nature finite and temporary. The only way they can give happiness is if we allow ourselves to be far too easily pleased, if we cheapen our pursuit of happiness.

But if we allow ourselves to long for a deeper happiness, then we must be looking for something that is infinitely more than things or people or ideas or philosophies. When we search for the infinite and the true, we search for God.

This kind of longing for happiness, and the way it is met, was recognised by the psalmists writing long ago. “In your presence”, they wrote, “is fullness of joy and at your right hand are eternal pleasures”. “A single day in your courts”, they said, “is better than a thousand anywhere else”. The bible is stuffed full of promises of happiness when we look for it in the inexhaustible God.

But we soon see that we have a problem when we seek God to find happiness. It’s as though life is divided into two sides. On the one side we find ourselves, others and all our stuff – the “me” side. On the other, the “not-me” side, is the inexhaustible God. Between the two there exists a gulf, an unbridgeable divide. Not only is God beyond our reach and understanding just by being God, but we find ourselves locked into our “me” side by our behaviour, by our cheap and too easily satisfied happiness. All of this is our sin and it makes that gulf un-crossable. But there is a solution.

The solution is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Father knew that we could not reach simply by our own efforts, and so Jesus came to earth to change everything. The Word of God became flesh and lived amongst men as a historical reality. First, He showed us in a real and concrete way who God is – “If you have seen me”, He said, “you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one”. And he told us what the deepest and truest kind of happiness was – “This is eternal life”, He said, “that they should know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You sent to earth”.

Then He died for our sin, for all the ways we were locked into the “me”, and He put Himself across that unbridgeable gulf to reconcile us to God. He set us free. And finally, to show that His words were not just empty promises or pretty ramblings, he rose from the dead three days after being crucified, proving that everything He had said was true. He did for us what we could not and cannot do ourselves, so that we need only receive that and believe in Him to have access again to the inexhaustible God.

We have to realise also that this invitation to happiness is not just an offer, it’s an imperative. God holds all things together and every good gift comes from Him, which means that everything we find happiness in now is just an echo of Him anyway. If we ignore the imperative, at the end the gulf between us and Him will become permanent, and then there will be no way to find any happiness at all. We will have only the desire and nothing to satisfy it with, even the cheap things that we look to now.

Ultimately, then, there is happiness to be found no matter what your circumstances and this is the challenge with which we are faced. Our desire for happiness is real, essential and deep, though we blunt it by being far too easily pleased. Will we give it full rein, to the point that we realise that it can only be met in God, and accept His solution for being able to reach Him – Jesus Christ? What will we do?