The Pursuit of Happiness

    Though he only intended to exalt himself, Timothy McVeigh inadvertently chose an epitaph that sums up the attitude -- and tragedy -- of much of recent history. Defiantly, he taunted: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." Well, a lethal injection disproved his arrogant boast. But this July 4th some people seem to think the Declaration of Independence actually validates such a self-serving creed as McVeigh embraced. Racing into courts to pursue their right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," they believe in personal autonomy as the ultimate good -- that they're entitled to happiness of self, whatever it requires of others. But Thomas Jefferson's majestic prose deserves better than that. He said: "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. . . ." But what is the source of liberty? Where do these rights come from? Jefferson's answer: the "Creator," from "Nature's God." Who is the final arbiter of truth and justice? The Founders declared: "The Supreme Judge of the World." The United States originated, not in arrogant self-interest, but in reverence for the Creator and Supreme Judge. The Declaration soars to its conclusion on wings of prayer: "... with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence ..." And God is named four times in this great founding document that defines our rights. We are free to pursue happiness under God's authority. Divinely decreed moral boundaries circumscribe that pursuit and order our liberty. But too often today, those who shout the loudest about their right to happiness vehemently deny any authority greater than themselves. Like Timothy McVeigh, they declare their independence from God, from moral authority, from religion, from tradition - - or any other obligations they don't like. But the Founders didn't leave that option open. Their pledge of "sacred honor" and reliance on divine providence excludes the autonomous self. They knew that such self-proclaimed "masters" of their own soul would corrupt society and destroy its institutions. George Washington once said: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." John Adams, our second president, warned that "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Those who dismiss these ideas and exalt the individual at the expense of all will do whatever it takes to gain happiness or assert their independence -- even if it comes to terrorism. The will to power, you see, has no use for principled pluralism or democracy. But as Paul says in Romans, "for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger" [Romans 2:8,9 NIV]. And self-styled masters and captains, like Timothy McVeigh, indeed come to a bitter end. The lesson for us is that the pursuit of happiness, without respect for God or man, leads only and always to destruction for men and for nations -- a good reminder as we celebrate our nation's 225th birthday.


Chuck Colson


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