A few weeks ago my students read a text that exposes what is arguably the most foundational theme of humanity– most commonly referred to as ‘the pursuit of happiness’. “What is happiness, anyway?” I asked the class. If it’s not defined, how will we know where to run? How will we know when we get there?
You try to answer that question. It’s more difficult than you’d think.
People have a tendency to define unknowns by negation. Simply put, we may not know what happiness is, but you’d better believe we know what it’s not. Therefore, the working definition looks like this:
Happiness (noun)- is not: exhaustion, stress, anxiety, disappointment, laziness, insecurity, loneliness.
Pretty ambiguous, huh? We all want it, but we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly it is. And so we start pursuing ambiguity.
You know this is no secret to the Lord.
Hosea 2 is an all time favorite of mine. Click here so you can read along.
Start it up in vs. 5b: “ I will go after my lovers who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.”
Please note the excessive use of the possessive pronoun ‘my’. It’s that ‘I earned this’ logic: Pursue something to get your something…
I will go after my _______________ who give me my _______________.
You can fill in those blanks with just about anything. So here’s the question: what are you chasing? And what exactly are you hoping to gain from whatever it is you’re chasing? Maybe it will look like one of these:
I will go after my relationships, which give me my validation.
I will go after my academic certifications, which make me qualified.
I will go after my friendships, which provide me with security.
I will go after my career, which makes me respectable.
I will go after materialism, which gives me credibility and favor.
Well, when you put it like that…
Read on down the passage and soak up, chew on and wrestle with vs. 6-8. Note God bringing light to the situation, “She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the food…. Which they used for Baal.”
Here’s the deal, He is the one who gives me the, not my, but the portion I need. I don’t earn a thing, but culture and pride tells me I do. God provides. And what do I (not talking about ‘her’ anymore; we just got real) do with what the Lord provides? Turn right around and use it to worship an idol. So, not only am I feeling entitled, but I’m taking it a step further and using those goodies to worship an idol. And if you’re anything like me, you know that idol I’m worshiping is myself.
It’s messy. It’s raw. It’s ugly.
And unfortunately, it’s spot on.
Read on to see how the Lord responds to this entitled goose chase in vs. 9-13.
Now, coming from one who has seen many a thorn bush block my path, I confidently and passionately claim that the Lord’s response in this instance is what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a severe mercy’. He’s protecting her from catching what she’s chasing, that’s the mercy part. He does so by blocking her paths, walling her in, and stripping her of her lovers; severe much? Here’s to multi-facetted mercy from a multi-facetted God.
Read vs. 14, “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”
Let me say this, he may lead you into the dessert wilderness where you don’t know up from down, but he will—count on it, now— he will speak tenderly to you while you are there. Plus, in the wilderness you don’t have anything to distract you from keeping your eyes on him. Amen.
The rest of chapter is rich, and I refuse to spoil it for you. Go finish it and note that our God is one who meets us right where we are, cares enough to get his hands dirty and loves us with such relentless tenacity that he will not tolerate sharing us with another, and he will even let us hurt for a short while so that we will not hurt for eternity. Who is this king of glory?!
Let’s jump back to ‘the pursuit of happiness’, we need to connect a few dots. If I may be so bold, I will say that we are the woman in Hosea 2. Lord only knows what sort of outlandish lovers we’ve decided to chase, but if you’re anything like me, you’re probably seeking something along the lines of: community, consistency, security, validation, peace, certainty, love. Did I miss anything? We equate those things with happiness.
The belief is, “If I have ______________, then I’ll be happy.”
So we start deckin’ ourselves with ring and jewelry and get to steppin’ after those lovers… and the Lord we forget. (vs. 13)
I’m afraid that our lovers might just be emotions, happiness being the forerunner. We’ve over-exalted feelings so much that we’ve hoisted them up onto the throne with God. Think of the levels we stooped to just to feel happy, or loved, or funny, or important… Jr. High really did happen, as much as we have all tried to forget it. Yes ma’am, this chase is, has been and will always be ug-ly.
Now, am I saying that the Lord does not want us to be happy and will hurl metaphoric thorn bushes from the sky to keep us from it? Of course not. He gave us those emotions! But we have to steward them well. We can’t go letting our feelings, or the pursuit of a feeling, get on the throne and start calling the shots, much less should we let them become the objects we chase.
You’ve seen the girls—and maybe have even been the girl—who is always desperately doing anything to be happy. New gym, new hair, new wardrobe, new diet, new hobbies, new friend group, new book, new show, new Pinterest board… You know she’s chasing something. Solomon said it best:
Ecclesiastes 1:7 “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.”
So let’s say hypothetically, you do catch your happiness, is it going to fill you up? Maybe for a hot second, but tried and true that feeling will pass and you’ll hit the ground running again. It’s exhausting and it’s a vain pursuit.
What are you chasing?
Here’s my prayer, may we run after the unchanging One and seek the things that can be found in him. Lord, wall in my way when I chase things that are not you. Send thorn bushes to block my path and please do not let me catch what I’m chasing. May I look to you to provide, and praise you for your mercy, regardless of its severity. Praise you that my lack of faith does not nullify your faithfulness.