“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Most of us are familiar with this well-known statement on human rights from the Declaration of Independence. It is interesting that the Founding Fathers declared that we are endowed by our Creator with certain rights and that one of them is the pursuit of happiness.
The author Ken Myers writes, “Happiness is roughly synonymous with the biblical idea of ‘blessedness’ … In Christian terms, the pursuit of happiness meant recognizing that God had created us to flourish in the context of obedience to Him so that our image-bearing nature might display His glory.”
Yet do not think that the pursuit of happiness is an individual pursuit on a personal level—pursuing “what makes me happy.” The Christian faith is not an individual experience. We journey together in our faith and in our service to God. So, it goes without saying that a Christian understanding of the pursuit of happiness is not an individual experience as well. Happiness or joy comes from being part of a community in which we celebrate God’s abundant goodness that is shared and enjoyed by all. Peter writes in his first epistle this advice for the Christian community, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:16-17 NIV
The pursuit of happiness involves striving to find blessedness in obedience to God. We strive to find happiness in God and not in our personal indulgences. Peter says that we are to live as free people, but to not use our God-given freedom to do evil against others. Likewise, we are to not use our Declaration of Independence as a permission slip to deprive others of this happiness. Putting what’s good for us ahead of what’s good for all simply isn’t Christian, nor is it an American ideal. Advancing ourselves at the expense of others simply is un-Christian and un-American.
When we work for the good of all—honoring everyone, loving the Christian community—the entire community advances and greater happiness is shared. And this is what we celebrate and honor each and every Independence Day.