The vanity of happiness

71a1yApXr5L._SX466_But God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He“? I have heard people declare this many times, in the form of a question of course, even though their minds are already made up. Mantras like “YOLO” were popular at one time. “If it feels good, do it” was another popular saying for a time. If you do not know, YOLO means “you only live once” which implies, have fun at all costs because you only get one time around. Each older generation declares that the younger generations are selfish, unlike themselves, when they were younger. I want to look at a passage of Scripture that speaks of people about 3,000 years ago. According to our modern way of thinking, the people 3,000 years ago should have been much less selfish than we are today because each generation claims that the next generation is much more selfish. Let’s take a practical look at the people of Israel, almost 3,000 years ago.

I. Proliferate warnings

The children of Israel were warned over and over again about the progression of sin and specifically, how idolatry would destroy the nation because it would lead the people away from God to their own destructive pleasures. God repeated this in the Law of Moses time and time again. Joshua wrote about it. King David wrote about it. This was ingrained in the minds of the people. Yet, they had a sin nature just like we have today. There was something very appealing about the idols of the pagans. It was appealing because it enticed (tempted) their sin nature, promising satisfaction without consequences. Surely that must not be true today, right? We are modern people. We no longer worship and serve idols, right? Never forget that you have a sin nature just like I have a sin nature. That sin nature is enticed by promises of pleasure without consequences. In fact, the New Testament write who wrote the most about “love” leaves a stern warning for Christians during his time and today. After spending five chapters teaching about love, what it is and how it is manifested, John ends his first epistle with the following warning:

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (I John 5:21)

Idols will keep us from fully experiencing the love of God. They will keep us from sharing the love of God with others because they take our focus off of God and others and place our focus on ourselves. Every generation is just as selfish as the one before and the one after it. Judgment was promised upon Israel but, the people simply chose not to believe the Word of God. We are living the same way today and that same judgment is promised on us today. Are we going to ignore the Word of God or not, that is the question of the day. Let’s examine the lifestyle of the people of Israel just to see how we are no different today.

II. Progression of sin

Just like speed in a car has a progression, so does sin in a society. An automobile does not start off going 60 miles an hour. That speed builds up, one mile an hour at a time. Some automobiles are faster at it than others but the progression is still the same. Sin works the same way. It permeates an entire society one person at a time. There is a specific path that leads to this saturation and God describes it for us in II Kings 17.

9 The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city.
10 They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree,
11 and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD.
12 They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.”
13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.”
14 However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God.
15 They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them.
16 They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.
17 Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him. (II Kings 17)

Did you see how all of this began? In verse 9, the people were tolerating and practicing hidden sin. Is there any hidden sin in your life? Do you watch things, or listen to things secretly that you would not want others to know about? I know of pastors who were trapped in hidden sin, such as drinking alcohol in excess or viewing pornography in secret. The men of our country, according to modern statistics, are obsessed with viewing pornography. The people of Israel tolerated and practiced hidden sin and we do the same today. The next step in the progression of sin is worshiping at the idol of happiness. What does that even mean? We live in a society that is obsessed with happiness. We seek happiness in many forms. Some chase happiness in the form of drugs. Others chase happiness in the form of intimate relationships, moving from one partner to another thinking that “this time I’ll be happy“. In verse 10, the people set up the worship of Asherah. This is the idol that represents the god of happiness. The people of Israel were ready to turn their backs on the God of the universe to worship at the altar of their own happiness. Don’t we do the same today? How many times have men and women given their unborn children a death sentence because they were not ready for a baby? A baby would ruin a young woman’s chance at a happy future. A man leaves his wife and children because he thinks that he will be happier with another woman. A woman leaves her husband because she wants the happiness that a more “romantic” man will offer. How much money do we spend on hobbies and things that we think will make us happy? You see, today, we still worship at the altar of Asherah. We just call it something else. The problem is, once you start living solely for your own happiness, you become very vain, very quickly. Verse 15 teaches us that the children of Israel became very vain, very quickly. Verse 17 reveals that the children of Israel actually did begin to sacrifice their own children on the altar of happiness. As I wrote earlier, we do the same thing today. I see many parents today trying to relive their own childhoods through their children. It is harming the children but the parents feel that this will make them happy and are willing to sacrifice the children on the altar of their own happiness. That is vanity if I have ever seen it. The final thing that we see the children of Israel doing is trying to manipulate their surroundings with their words, even to the point where they believed that they could manipulate God. Don’t we do the same things today? Don’t we try to control language in such a way that we can manipulate others. We see this happening every day in our society. ILLEGAL immigrants are now called “undocumented workers“. Terrorists are now called “freedom fighters“. Abortion is called “healthcare“. Biological men are now called women. Biological women are now called men. This manipulation of language is nothing new. This is what the children of Israel were doing to justify their actions, just like we do today.

All of this brings the wrath of God on a nation that does not repent. This is what Israel was doing that moved God to bring about the Assyrian captivity. We, as a nation, are on the same path. We cannot blame the media, a political party, or anything outside of ourselves. If God does not judge us, He will have to apologize to ancient Israel. Well, based on all of this, what is God’s solution?

III. Principal solution

God never leaves people to figure out what they should do. Whenever He exposes a problem, He always offers the solution. The same was true for ancient Israel and the same is true for us today.

13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.”
14 However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God.
15 They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them. (II Kings 17)

We need to make sure that we pay attention to God’s warnings to us in His Word. We need to let our fellow citizens know of God’s warnings and not simply keep them to ourselves. We need to let go of our idols so that the Lord can remove them from our lives. We need to take measures of accountability so that we do not run back to the idols once we let them go. Also, when tempted to stiffen our necks and ignore the Lord’s warnings, we need to trust Him and His Word, knowing that what He wants for us is the best for us and that our idols simply want to destroy us. What is that thing that you simply cannot put down and walk away from it? If you don’t know what it is, ask God to make you aware of it. I am pretty sure that if you have read this far, He has already made you aware of it. You need to repent. I need to repent. We all need to repent because we have tolerated and practiced hidden sin for far too long. We have worshiped at the altar of happiness for far too long. We have lived for vain pleasure for far too long. Let’s return to the Lord and watch what He will do one person at a time, one family at a time for His glory and for our own good.

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