If this five-part series on The Secret of Happiness has taught me anything, it is that this topic is well nigh inexhaustible! So many and varied thoughts about what exactly The Secret of Happiness is. Resources available on the World Wide Web include writings from a multitude (both living and dead) and it would be difficult to digest them here.
Though much more could be explored, I’ve decided it’s time to wrap up this discussion. I’ll do so by contrasting the lives of two historical figures.
If anyone had reason to be unhappy, surely it was Job. The Book of Job presents his story by posing a penetrating and age-old question: if God is a God of love and mercy, why do righteous men suffer? (You’ll want to read the book yourself, but I’ll summarize here.)
The book begins with God’s praise for Job (1:1, NASB) − he’s “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Seven verses later, God adds there’s “no one like him on the earth.” High marks from the Creator, wouldn’t you agree?
But Satan scolds God: Job wouldn’t be so righteous if he suffered loss; he’s only righteous because he’s comfortable, wealthy and enjoys every imaginable advantage. So God allows Satan to destroy Job’s comfort, wealth and advantages. Eventually, God permits Satan to inflict gross bodily pain − Job gets boils from head to toe.
Job’s friends commiserate with his distress and a dialogue ensues. The men opine about Job’s suffering; he responds. Notwithstanding God’s appraisal that Job is “blameless,” his friends insist Job’s suffering is due to sin in his life.
A fourth friend ultimately enlightens the trio of “friends,” maintaining God has permitted Job’s suffering as a means for purification, a stripping away of any vestige of self-righteousness, compelling Job to trust only God and God alone.
Through it all, Job remains steadfast, saying in 19:25 (NASB), “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He anticipates certain future vindication, even if it must come after his death. In 23:10b (NASB) Job declares, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Hearkening back to the Viktor Frankl model, Job found meaning in his suffering. Happiness was never the focus.
Compare Job’s experiences to the life of Solomon. Again, if anyone has ever lead a charmed (and presumably happy) life, wouldn’t it be Solomon? Son of a king, then king himself, Solomon had power, wealth and great wisdom. He also had the vast pleasures of the world at his disposal. Unlike Job, Solomon didn’t lose everything (or anything); he engaged a rich life of excess and increase.
In the book attributed to his authorship (Ecclesiastes), Solomon comments on the futility of human wisdom, pleasure and wealth, and materialism, concluding in 2:17 (NASB), “I hated life … because everything is futility and striving after wind.” He goes on in 3:22 (NASB) to assert, “… nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities …”
These seemingly contradictory statements come from a man, an ancient King of Israel, who realized life (in spite of its futility) is a gift from God that should be enjoyed to the fullest. He regards labor (work) as good and commends the pleasures of eating and drinking, but he also reminds us that life is fleeting. Read the book of Ecclesiastes to grasp both Solomon’s despair and his sagacity.
ASIDE At the end of the book, 12:12 (RSV), I note Solomon warns his son: “Of making many books there is not end, and much study is weariness of the flesh.” I guess I should take note of what the wise man says, huh?
Given Solomon’s wisdom, I think Ecclesiastes represents the best guide I’ve found for uncovering The Secret of Happiness. Here’s a distillation of Solomon’s wisdom-writing in Ecclesiastes:
- God is sovereign.
- Mankind is fallen.
- Death is certain and unavoidable … but, in the meantime,
- You’re alive and Life is a blessing to enjoy.
If there were a secret formula to ensure happiness, people would gladly pay to secure it. I wonder how many will take Solomon’s conclusions (free) to heart?