Monday, September 1, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

The World’s Joy-Tragedy

Tony Reinke / August 29, 2014

The World’s Joy-Tragedy

In his classic book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis delivers a profound insight into the psychological engine that pulls along the drama of history. “All that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Yes. Or to say this even more foundationally: the driving motive in history is the desire for happiness. Think of it, everything from slavery to prostitution to racism to terrorism to extortion to abortion to the ignition of world wars — it’s all driven by a desire for happiness apart from God.

Here Lewis jabs a steel dental probe into the raw unmedicated nerve of atheism. The serious problem with atheism is not intellectual atheism, denying God’s existence. The real problem is affectional atheism, finding God to be an obstruction in the path of personal joy. This practical atheism is the fundamental root problem of humanity and it plagues the hearts of atheists, agnostics, and even professing deists alike.

Atheists to the Core

Such a cancer in the heart can only bring massive social consequences. By turning away from God, our pursuit of godless joy must come at the expense of others (Psalm 14:1–4). The problem is not that there are atheists in the world; the problem is that we all universally identify with this atheism at the core of our motives. Every one of us is born with a twisted desire for happiness, and that desire must come at the cost of others.

So what happens when we seek joy and must use someone to get it? You must oppress. You must step on toes. You must wound and offend. And you come face-to-face and eye-to-eye with other such atheists seeking personal happiness at your expense. You get used. Paradoxically, these desires attract us to one another, making the impact even harder, like an inevitable head-on collision between freight trains.

The single man who idolizes sex is motivated to date to that end. The single woman who idolizes the attention of men to fund her sense of self-worth is also motivated to date. When they meet, they will use each other for their own selfish ends. It will cost a man his flattery, it will cost the woman her body, but in the moment both seem to be a small price to feed their own personal idols. So far everything seems peaceful.

But this idol-feeding cannot be sustained. Eventually the man’s eyes are drawn to other bodies of other women and un-drawn to the woman he sits across from the table right now. The flattery will eventually be exposed to be a sham, and the woman’s body will be shown to have been merely an object of a man’s lust. If you look deeper than the surface, you find in this relationship two isolated sinners, atheists whose affections are disconnected from God, and who are using one another to fill in the gap. It will end in war.

Fight Club

Exploiting one another for personal happiness, however subtly it appears, eventually leads to vicious personal conflict in all of our lives. James 4:1–12 helps us understand why this happens by asking us point blank: What causes fights and quarrels in our lives? What fuels the flames of anger, bitterness, and wrath you feel in your heart?

The answer is not complicated. We war against one another because our passions claw and cry for God-less joys. We lust for the pleasures we think will bring us happiness, but we cannot have those desires. So we murder. We covet and idolize the pleasure we think will satisfy our soul — sex, power, wealth, fame, you name it — but we don’t get them, they remain elusive from our clutches, and so we kill one another. We use. We get used. We covet. We become enemies of one another. We become enemies of God. We reject the abundant supplies God offers us for personal satisfaction. Welcome to the fight club.

Puritan Richard Sibbes explains the simple reason why all this holds true: “Before the heart be changed, our judgment is depraved in regard of our last end; we seek our happiness where it is not to be found.” In our lives, this is the tragic root problem behind the conflicts. We are blind to what will bring our hearts the satisfaction it longs for. We cannot see God’s beauty or enjoy the pleasures of God, so we seek to substitute it with the pleasures of the flesh. Our hearts are so backwards they are dead. We end up chasing the wrong end of the wrong end.

But we all chase something. That’s Lewis’s point.

So what is a “last end”? What is my “last end”? Puritan Richard Baxter explains. Our last end is our pleasure, our treasure, our chief good, what we use everything else in our lives to obtain. Our “last end” is whatever we perceive to be the best thing in the world for us, what we principally seek in life, what we think would make us happiest to have, what would make us most miserable to miss. It could be sex or attention or power or fame or wealth — each of these ultimate ends exposes the practical atheism of our hearts. Therefore, Baxter explains, “the chief part of man’s corruption in his depraved natural state, consists in a wrong chief good, a wrong treasure, a wrong security.”

No diagnostic question gets down deeper into us: What’s the one thing I cannot live without?

At root, sin is not wrongdoing, it’s wrong adoring. Sin is riveting our hearts on any treasure or security that replaces the treasure and security we can only find in God.


Because we’re all atheists in the root sense (blind to the abundant pleasures of God), our eyes are easily led from one idol to another in a chase of spiritual adultery. John Calvin explains, “Adulterers by their wandering glances, generate the flames of lust, and so their heart is set on fire” (Ezekiel 6:9). That’s how the heart works. By ignoring invisible God, we set our eyes on a chase for whatever we see in this visible world. What we see around us, we hunt, and what we hunt further inflames the lust in our heart for what we see.

This explains why idols take so many different forms in every century or culture. An idol is sometimes a tree carved into a lizard, gold molded into a calf, ivory shaped into a household idol, or a magazine cover printed with an airbrushed model. Like a rock climber, our eyes look around to find the next handhold in reach, each new hold further inflaming the lust in our heart and propelling us toward the summit of godless satisfaction we are drawn to pursue, but that will never actually be found. The climb is futile because the end never arrives. The aim was wrong from the beginning — it was the wrong mountain. And all the while, with each step, we’re only increasing the height from which eventually we will fall.

Here we find the unending cycle of sin. It’s ultimately deadness and blindness, seeking for worldly joys that turn out to be futile and lead only to deeper despairs in search for new promises of fulfillment in new forms of sexual expression or in more money or in newer gadgets.

Totally Depraved

This clawing of a dead soul for satisfaction in pleasures of the flesh, where lasting pleasure cannot be found, is what Calvinists call total depravity, the first letter in the acronym TULIP. This definition was perceived in Scripture by Calvin himself and many before, and since in the Puritans, the Princetonians, and Calvinists today. As John Piper says, “Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy.”

We’re not all destined to be Adolf Hitlers, casting out suffocating oppression. For the majority of us, our powers are too small to feed off the self-centered pleasures we can squeeze from a nation. The degree of how depravity gets expressed varies for all of us. In many cases, this depravity in the affections leads more to disordered thoughts and dreams than in actual behavior. The scale of devastation differs, but our hearts are the same.

It’s one thing to be bad; it’s wholly another thing to be blind to good. We all experience this. This is the essence of total depravity — it’s what makes the depravity so holistically total — we cannot begin to imagine how that any real sense of pleasure or joy can be found in God!

Again, back to the old Puritans, who understood how depravity works. They said it is to have heart affections that are “vitiated” — an arcane way of saying the affections are royally screwed up. Depravity spoils the heart of what it was created to be and do. It’s the thirsty man drinking down saltwater. The natural heart desires only what dishonors God and ultimately ruins itself.

The sinner’s greatest sadness is that “he cannot get his wicked will gratified, or his carnal affections satisfied.” When the natural world can offer no more delights, the unnatural are pursued (Romans 1:18–32). His lusts are insatiable, and his sinful desires are never satisfied.

Thus, the reality of total depravity lands us here. We love what destroys us; we are blind to what satisfies us. Total depravity is the full screwing up of the soul’s affections. It is full blindness to God’s beauty. It is full resistance of joy in God. It is the essence of all sin.

Guilty Pleasures

The real tragedy is that it’s all a matter of preference. “Men prefer carnal sweets before communion with God,” writes William Bates of depravity. Talking truffles is no trifle. To be total depraved is not to be an innocent victim of sin. And it’s not merely forgetting God, a problem remedied by iPhone alarms or weekly church attendance. Depravity is volitional and intentional and rebellious ignoring of God, and as such it warrants God’s judgment. To enjoy the pleasures of the flesh over the pleasures of God is “a sin of astonishing guilt, and not less odious to God, and damning in its nature.”

To grab a handful of fleshly pleasure “is death” (Romans 8:6). And there’s only one remedy to this hopeless depravity. Rather than pursue the natural leadings of our flesh, we must pursue the promise of eternal joy in fellowship with God (Hebrews 11:24–26).

Sin is joy poisoned. Holiness is joy postposed and pursued. If I am to escape my lostness, God must become my greatest treasure.

Now What?

That’s where the storyline will stop. For now, we must simply recognize this practical atheism is quicksand. We all must have happiness. And for sinners, we choose sin over God. Total depravity is this desperate helplessness.

And yet, “The Lord doesn’t talk about your sin so you’ll think your trash,” writes one modern-day Calvinist. “He talks about it just because you’re not. He talks about it because he made you in his own image, with an infinitely higher and brighter plan for you than the one you chose for yourself.”

This is the plot twist. God reveals depravity to break those he is leading to true joy. But in light of the human tragedy called total depravity, such a brighter plan seems rather impossible apart from some kind of bold divine infringement on my pursuits. If I am to life, something or someone must override me. Someone must break me.

Calvinists throughout the centuries know, to find joy, someone must batter my heart and ravish my affections. Someone must turn my gaze away from idols and overwhelm me with a greater beauty.

Posts in the “Happy Calvinist” series:

Sources: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperCollins: 2001), 49. Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: 1862), 1:181. Richard Baxter, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter (London: 1830), 7:39. John Calvin, Commentary on the First Twenty Chapters of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Edinburgh: 1849), 231. Ralph Erskine, The Practical Works of the Reverend Ralph Erskine (Glasgow: 1777), 1:390. George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock (1868), 4:486. William Bates, The Whole Works of the Rev. William Bates (Harrisonburg, VA: 1990), 2:221, 2:258. D. Clair Davis, “Personal Salvation,” in The Practical Calvinist: An Introduction to the Presbyterian and Reformed Heritage In Honor of Dr. D. Clair Davis, Peter A. Lillback, ed. (Mentor, 2002), 28.
Share on Facebook

Monday, July 7, 2014

Modern Day Parenting in Crisis: A British Nanny Explains 5 Reasons Why

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Preschool Activities

An incredibly practical post about activities for your pre-schooler that are developmentally appropriate for teaching academics and character.


Enjoy :)


Preschool at my house this week – large family homeschooling (with toddlers!)

IMG_0115 It was time for an update of the activities available for my preschoolers this week. This cupboard is only used for “school” time with Mummy once a day by the twins (4 years) and contains our more formalised school activities – number and letter work etc. (Last months activities are here.) We are making the most of the next 2 months before baby number 7 is due to work on preschool skills. Once bub arrives these activities will be changed to more play based choices and able to be used independently, rather than requiring my direct supervision. Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting all 4 year olds are ready for this level of work. I work steadily with my children, moving ahead as far as their understanding and development allows. I do not stick to teaching skills by grade or age, but rather follow each child’s development as far as they are able. This changes from child to child and the ideas here are more traditionally at pre-primary to year 1 school level. It is more important that children learn to sit and concentrate, follow instructions, learn Godly character etc. than a list of rote learning or academic skills. The twins happen to be able to cope with these activities and show an interest in them so I will go with that for now. If it becomes burdensome and onerous for them, we will take a break. IMG_0097 I found these plastic tiles at an op shop. I have no idea what their original use was, however they link together nicely for this number sequencing activity. Having 3 colours meant I could quickly separate out only the 1 to 10 blocks, then add the 11 to 20 and finally 21 to 30 as they were able to complete the “path” as we called it. I provided a coloured number strip to use as a guide while they were still learning the numeral sequence. IMG_0104 IMG_0099 This is the same activity using a different style of block. These came from a build-your-own 3D desk calendar I bought for $1. You could also purchase Coko bricks which are almost identical and can be used on Duplo base boards. The twins have learnt to count to 30 out loud and have fairly good one-to-one correspondence so we are now working on recognising and sequencing numerals to 30. IMG_0105 IMG_0119 We use Mathusee in the early years (moving on to Saxon math later) but as my preschoolers are not ready to do a lot of written work I used the sequence of skills from the Primer book to develop a bunch of hands-on activities. These block manipulatives also come from the Mathusee resources. In the example above, the children need to recognise the numeral and count to find the right block to place above it. Click  HERE for a FREE PRINTABLE. IMG_0120 IMG_0121 Another Mathusee based activity; basic addition facts using the manipulatives and numeral answers. The number strips I have out at the moment are plus 1 and plus 2. Learning basic addition facts now will help with more difficult mathematical skills later on. Click the links below for FREE PRINTABLES: Plus  1 Plus 2 Plus 3 Plus 4 Plus 5 Plus 6 Plus 7 Plus 8 Plus 9 Plus 10 IMG_0122 We have moved on from letter names and sounds and identifying initial sounds to 3 letter words. These are Coko bricks and each board has groups of consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words with the same endings to keep it simple. The children carefully sound out the words and find the matching bricks to make them. IMG_0123 IMG_0124 The back side of the card has the answers to make the activity self-checking. No printable for this one sorry – the pictures are not mine! IMG_0125 These alphabet sounds books were simply a book form of flashcard. We use them to review the letter names and sounds and sticker the letters they know. I found the school font I wanted to use online, enlarged it and printed them out. IMG_0126 This is an initial sounds activity. Free printable circle pictures and letters are available from this blog. I made a simple backing page to use them in a slightly different way than the original author intended. The sets are sorted into 3 or 4 initial sounds in each envelope to keep it simple and avoid having the whole alphabet mixed up together. For a FREE PRINTABLE of my circles backing page click here. IMG_0127 IMG_0128 I made these consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) 3 letter word matching cards using pictures from cheap sticker books. The children choose a picture and find the matching word card before turning the picture over to check their answer on the back. IMG_0129 A basic counting and/or colour matching activity from an activity bag swap I posted on a while back. The concept is far too easy for the twins now but I wanted something for fine motor skills so popped this one out again. The idea is to slide the correct number of paperclips onto each foot after ordering the numerals from 1 to 5. You may also require them to match the colours at the same time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sibling fun and friendship


the fun


crazy moments

loud discussions



serious conversations





among my now young adult




Thankyou God.