Happiness is Edenistic, not Hedonistic

The world thinks of happiness hedonistically, God thinks of happiness edenistically. This is one of the central ideas of David Naugle’s highly recommended book Reordered Loves, Reordered LivesLearning the Deep Meaning of Happiness. In a previous post, I discussed the contemporary view of happiness as pleasure. In light of our fatigue and failure to find happiness via pleasure, perhaps its time to consider God’s perspective on happiness and to consider the happiness that He offers.

The Biblical world for this blessed happiness that God intends for us is shalom. As Cornelius Plantinga states, 

Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be (italics added).[ref]Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 10.[/ref]

We long for happiness because we long for a world made right again. We were created to flourish. And the Biblical story, especially the creation account in Genesis 1-2, gives us a picture of what human flourishing—shalom—looks like: intimacy with God, harmony with self, others and the created order as we live out our God-given purposes. David Naugle notes six ingredients in God’s recipe for the happy life evident in the creation account:[ref]David Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives, 17 (italics added).[/ref]

  1. Spiritually, we were made to enjoy intimate union with God the creator in obedience to his will, rooted in our identity as God’s image and likeness.
  2. Vocationally, we were made to undertake fulfilling work based on the commandment to rule the earth and to cultivate and keep the creation.
  3. Socially, we were made for human companionship especially as men and women in the context of marriage and family life.
  4. Nutritionally, we were made to partake freely of food and drink, as seen in the generous provision of plants, fruitful trees, and water in the garden of Eden.
  5. Sabbatically, we were made to rest and play in the enjoyment of the world, based upon the blessing and sanctification of the seventh day.
  6. Habitationally, we were made to take pleasure in our surroundings, in the nature of the locations and places where we live, since God set us in the delightfulness of Eden and in the context of the creation’s astounding wonder and beauty.

God’s idea of happiness is much richer than the contemporary view of happiness as sensual pleasure. To be sure, created things can fulfill many of our needs. God has created them for our sustenance and enjoyment. But it is a mistake to think that created things on there own can replace and satisfy our need for a Creator. As Pascal famously states:

What does this greed and helplessness proclaim, except that there was once within us true happiness of which all that now remains is the outline and empty trace? Man tries unsuccessfully to fill this void with everything that surrounds him, seeking in absent things the help he cannot find in those that are present, but all are incapable of it. This infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite, immutable object, that is to say, God himself.[ref]Pascal, Pensees, 52.[/ref]

Importantly, however, the Christian story does not require us to eliminate our love for things on earth out of a love for God. “It’s not either God or the world, but both God and the world in a proper relationship.”[ref]Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives, 21.[/ref] The happy life, according to God, is a holistic life. It is a life that unites God and humanity, the Creator with creatures, and the spiritual with the physical and fuses them into an integrated whole and a right ordering of our loves and affections.

The tragedy of the fall (in Genesis 3) is the loss of paradise. But our longings point us, if we pay attention, to a better world. While faded, the memory persists. Because of sin, our efforts to attain happiness—the fulfillment of that inconsolable longing—have been frustrated. But the good news is that we can find happiness. Our lives can be made whole. There is hope for the perpetually unhappy.

How can we find happiness? C.S. Lewis states the answer simply: “out of our selves, into Christ, we must go.”[ref]C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001 Edition), 224.[/ref] God offers us the happiness there is, it is ours for the taking … if we will turn from self to follow the Living God.