Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness

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Overview

If we have a particle of sense, St. Augustine said, we realize that we all want to be happy. In fact, we were designed to crave happiness — human happiness was actually God’s original idea. Why is it, then, that it so often cannot be found? Are we looking in the wrong places?

David K. Naugle begins with the biblical creation account, arguing that God’s plan for happiness was based around a loving relationship with the Creator, our work, relationships, food, rest and recreation, homes and habitats — an “edenistic” happiness called shalom. Then the plan went wrong: man sinned against God. Now separate from the Creator, man attached his loves in excessive ways to various things to fill the need for that perfect love now missing. Yet while searching for that happiness, our disordered loves have disordered our lives. Our quest for happiness results in misery. Only the restoration of a loving relationship with God can bring us back into shalom.

Naugle here presents a counter cultural — both secular and church culture — view of happiness, drawing us back to the original and perfect model we must strive for. Reordered Love, Reordered Lives points readers to the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to discover the truly happy life in God.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Human beings are constantly searching for happiness, but too often seek it from insufficient and disappointing sources. This is the message that Naugle, professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University, eloquently presents. He argues that human beings have always searched for happiness, but come up empty most of the time because we cling to things of the created world rather than to the Creator. His prose is engaging, peppered with intriguing quotes from pop culture books, music and movies that propel his exposition along. The author's discussion of virtues is particularly compelling, and his presentation breathes new life into this topic. Many Christians will enjoy this book and be renewed in their quest for true happiness. Others will not, given the author's insistence that accepting Jesus is the only way to real happiness. In a religiously pluralistic world, the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly. While the author lost that opportunity here, he is able to capture the sense of longing to live for something greater than themselves that so many feel, regardless of their religious views. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802828170
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 10/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 619,968
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

David K. Naugle is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. He is also the author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans), selected at the 2003 Christianity Today book of the year.

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Table of Contents

Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS....................ix
PREFACE....................xi
1. A Broken Heart and the Pursuit of Happiness....................1
2. Disordered Love: Everything I Love Is Killing Me....................31
3. Disordered Lives: Seven (and Even More)Ways to Die....................59
4. The Gospel: From Futility to the Living God....................87
5. Reordered Love: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection....................117
6. Reordered Lives: All Things New....................145
7. A Mended Heart and the Deep Meaning of Happiness....................177
Questions for Discussion....................207
INDEX....................213
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First Chapter

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives

Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness
By David K. Naugle

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2008 David K. Naugle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-2817-0


Chapter One

A Broken Heart and the Pursuit of Happiness

"And yet-happiness, happiness-where is it? Who can say of himself that he is happy?"

Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Introduction

I begin this book with the assumption of a broken heart. If my assumption is premature in your case, it's just a matter of time before the inevitable occurs. The world fractures everyone's heart sometime, somehow, some way, to one degree or another. No one is exempt. In the midst of our difficult circumstances, we feel the weight of our woes and long for some semblance of a happy life once again. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

In the acclaimed Nasher Sculpture Center in the Dallas arts district, there is a beautiful bronze statue of a woman who seems to embody this inevitable condition of brokenness and pain. The work is by the noted French sculptor Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and is provocatively titled "Night" (La Nuit). The female figure is folded in upon herself in an upright fetal position with her feet together and her knees pulled up tightly towards her chest. Her bowed head is buried in her crossed arms as they rest atop her knees in an apparent state of weariness and introspection.

What is she thinking about and feeling as she sits there in the dark all alone? Has she simply endured a difficult day? Is she mentally or physically exhausted? Maybe the ordinary challenges of life have just caught up with her and she is in a focused state of self-examination or prayer. Perhaps she is muttering to herself "I am a little weary of my life ... I am weary of weariness and strife," to borrow a wintry sentiment from George MacDonald. Whatever the causes of this woman's "dark night of the soul," we can be pretty sure that her overall happiness or sense of well-being is at stake and under negotiation.

Her crestfallen condition is not uncommon. We too may feel emotionally fragile and depleted; we too may consider our troubles as vast as the sea, as great as a galaxy. Maybe she's asking questions we sometimes ask: Who am I, and what is it I have become? How did my life wind up like this? Will it ever change? Whatever happened to my hope for a happy life? How am I supposed to be happy? What is happiness, anyway? Is the search for it fruitless? The woman represented in the Maillol sculpture, should she come to life, could probably empathize with Leo Tolstoy's conflicted character Anna Karenina, who on one occasion said, "I'm simply unhappy. If anyone is unhappy, I am."

Our lives are often miserable. Is there any sorrow like my sorrow? Is there any pain like my pain? Maybe those who once observed birthdays with tears and celebrated funerals with joy knew what they were doing! Given the injustices and sufferings that seem to rule in the world, perhaps those who believed it was best to expire quickly, or even better, to have never been born, showed remarkably good judgment. How unfortunate we were to be born! How lucky should we die soon!

Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun. (Eccles. 4:1-3)

Still, human beings are remarkably resilient. Despite the odds, the hope for a better and even happy life, whatever we think it is, endures in most of us.

Happiness and Human Nature

"Life is just a bowl of cherries." Anonymous

"Life is a bowl of pits." Rodney Dangerfield

Intense interest in happiness - especially our own - is constant in human history, and it is a constant in human history because it is a constant of human nature. As persons comprised of body and soul, we earnestly desire and seek whatever we think it takes to fulfill these combined aspects of our nature. We all aspire to felicity, both mentally and physically, whether we are willing to admit it or not. The components of our nature are fixed, and our compelling needs are unyielding. They scream for attention and demand a satisfying response. This is the unalterable human condition. As C. S. Lewis once noted, "nothing about us except our neediness is, in this life, permanent." Contemporary poet David Hopes agrees:

we are of one ambition and one lineage: Want. Want not in proportion to any need, want unreasonable and overflowing, our days and nights overshadowed with desire....

If we pay attention to our own lives and observe the lives of others, we will soon discern that a desire for happiness of one kind or another is the conscious, subconscious, or unconscious motivation for just about everything we do. Most of our daily lives and activities are aimed at the goal of experiencing and enhancing some measure of well-being and delight, even if such intentions are in the unacknowledged background of our minds.

What besides our own welfare could possibly lie silently behind our feverish educational, vocational, or economic pursuits? Why else would we seek knowledge, career success, or basic material provision, if our own good wasn't somehow at stake? What else other than a sense of joy and fulfillment motivates us in our family relationships, in our friendships, in our recreations, and in our faith? Food and drink, clothing and shelter, while necessary for survival, are also things we desire and seek to enjoy. Why do I do what I do? Why do you do what you do? Here is the answer: we want to live happily, both now and ever after! "In every real man the will for life is also the will for joy," writes theologian Karl Barth. "It is hypocrisy," he says, "to hide this from oneself." Perhaps this is why we tend to think that real gusto is just the next relationship, the next purchase, or the next achievement away.

Like Karl Barth, just about all the great religions, philosophies, and worldviews past to present have confirmed what our intuitions and experiences in life indicate about the universality of the quest for delight in life. Though their teachings and methods differ, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism all acknowledge some form of personal well-being and the well-being of others to be at the forefront of their respective religious traditions, whether in this life or the next, or in both somehow. The Judeo-Christian scriptures affirm the reality of a holy bliss for God's people and the fulfillment of our desires in God. In the Old Testament, for example, we read,

In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Ps. 16:11)

Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)

Likewise, Jesus taught that the blessing of beatitude - "true happiness" in John Calvin's estimation-was discovered in his kingdom (Matt. 5:1-11).11 He also said that he came to earth so that his followers might have "life" and have it "abundantly" (John 10:10b). He taught his disciples that his joy might be in them and that their joy would be made full (John 15:11).

Paul in Philippians 4:4 encouraged Christian believers to "rejoice in the Lord always." John wrote his first epistle "so that our joy may be made complete" (1 John 1:4). Peter asserted that though many Christians in his day hadn't seen Christ personally, they believed in him anyway, and "greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8). Beatitude, bountiful life, and joy, indeed, a deep and meaningful notion of the happy life, is at the heart of biblical religion.

Plato (427/8-347 B.C.) believed that every desire we have is for good things or happiness, and that happiness is equated with the things we love most dearly and sometimes recklessly. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) affirmed that happiness was "the end of the things pursued in action" and was the product of moral and intellectual virtue, sustained by a sufficient supply of external goods such as food, clothing, shelter, work, friends, and so on. Both of these giants of the Western intellectual tradition recognized happiness as the end of a well-ordered life through reason and virtue.

In the Christian tradition, the early church father Augustine (A.D. 354-430) once wrote, "It is the decided opinion of all who use their brains, that all people desire to be happy." Medieval Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225-1274) believed that happiness was the ultimate end of human life both naturally and supernaturally, culminating in the "beatific vision" when we will see God face to face for all eternity. The French theologian Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) asserted that "All people are in search of happiness. There is no exception to this whatever different methods are employed." American theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) declared that "saints and sinners, and all alike, love happiness, and have the same unalterable and instinctive inclination to desire and seek it." C. S. Lewis (1989-1963) maintained that "It is a Christian duty ... for everyone to be as happy as he can."

Though there is significant disagreement on what happiness is and how to get it, there is substantial agreement in recognizing it as the bull's eye on the target at which we aim our lives. As Aristotle said, people agree that the highest of all goods pursued in life is happiness, but they "disagree about what happiness is, and the many do not give the same answer as the wise." Certainly, then, since this hope for happiness is a non-negotiable ingredient built in to our very nature-regardless of the what, where, and how - the desire and quest for happiness will remain with us as long as our race shall last.

The Pursuit of Happiness, American Style

"The truly revolutionary promise of our nation's founding document is the freedom to pursue happiness-with-a-capital-H...."

Dan Savage, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America

While happiness is undoubtedly a universal human quest, its pursuit seems closely associated with the American experience. Whatever Mr. Jefferson and other Founders may have meant by "the pursuit of happiness," this theme has effectively worked its way into the vocabulary, consciousness, and lifestyles of most Americans. Currently, one of the most popular courses at Harvard University is on the psychology of happiness taught by Daniel Gilbert and based on his book, Stumbling on Happiness - "a book that describes what science has to tell us about how and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy." The quest for the happy life seems to be the one thing most Americans can agree on. Though serious divisions of religion, race, class, gender, and politics plague our society, the pursuit of happiness seems to be the social glue that makes us one out of many. "We are ... bound together by a gospel of psychological happiness," asserts Eva Moskowitz in her discussion of America's obsession with self-fulfillment and its consummate trust in psychotherapy to get us there.

Since the concept of happiness is so socially important, how are Americans doing? In a recent study, the U.S. came in number twenty-three on a list of the world's happiest countries. Denmark was number one. According to a Pew Research Center Publication, about one-third of American adults rank themselves as "very happy," fifty percent say they are "pretty happy," and about fifteen percent have the doldrums.

The Happiness Business

"How do you define happiness? What are the best ways to get there? Who is happy ... happier ... happiest? What doesn't lead to happiness (that we mistakenly think will)? Has the definition of happiness changed significantly over the last few decades?"

John Reich and Ed Diener, "The Road to Happiness"

Given this fixation on felicity, happiness gurus abound to tell us how this ever-present longing can be suitably satisfied. It is impossible to keep up with the flood of books, seminars, and websites devoted to helping us find our bliss. Popular periodicals provide updates on the state of this science or art regularly. Some of the advice on offer smacks of common sense and is somewhat helpful. A lot of it, on the other hand, is plain silly and ultimately empty. Regardless, the happiness business is flourishing.

Needless to say, it's hard to talk about happiness in a meaningful way "without sounding like a child, or a cynic, or more likely a purveyor of tired and shallow truisms," as Wilfred McClay tells us, adding,

The problem is that while happiness is a subject of central importance to our existence, and a matter of irrepressibly consuming interest, many of the most reliable truths about it may easily come across disappointingly flat and trite and commonplace. Surely, we think to ourselves, this elusive thing we all pant after can't have been captured by a sugary Hallmark card inscription or the maudlin lyrics of a country-and-western song.

One of the main problems, of course, is coming up with a suitable definition of the term. In surveying the chaos surrounding the notion in his day, the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca (c. 5 B.C.-A.D. 65) reminded us:

There is not any thing in this world, perhaps, that is more talked of, and less understood, than the business of a happy life. It is every person's wish and design; and yet not one of a thousand ... knows wherein that happiness consists. We live, however, in a blind and eager pursuit of it; and the more haste we make in a wrong way, the further we are from our journey's end.

Many purport to offer help and direction for our energetic but often indiscriminate pursuit. Scientific, economic, and cultural forces have produced a paradigm shift in the way most people understand happiness. It has morphed in the minds of many Americans into a promise of sustained pleasure and painlessness. More than a few conceive of the concept in sensualistic, materialistic, and egotistical terms. Food and sex, wealth and possessions, achievement and power are the goals that goad so many of us into action. We are in search of the everlasting ideal in education, finances, work, technology, marriage, parenting, friendship, travel, adventure, health, entertainment, recreation, religion, food, drink, sex, and self. Not only is this pursuit exhausting; it also trivializes a once-noble concept, as we have moved from a concern with being and doing good to a fixation on feeling good. Philip Rieff calls it the triumph of the therapeutic: "That a sense of well-being has become the end, rather than a by-product of striving after some superior communal end, announces a fundamental change of focus in the entire cast of our culture." Draining the notion of happiness of its deeper meaning has made its pursuit both more frantic and less fulfilling.

"Happy Is a Yuppie Word"

"Don't worry - be happy"

Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"

Those who have studied the history of the idea of happiness in a Western context have observed how it migrated from its original home in religion and philosophy to the political sphere and, most recently, into the domain of individual experience. Classically, among the great Western philosophers and theologians, happiness denoted the state of the genuine fulfillment of human nature that resulted from being properly related as a person to the truth of reality. Educating the soul to conform it to reality, rather than conforming reality to the dictates of the individual soul, was the secret to the happy life. But those days of defining happiness and the good life, and what it means to be truly human, are long gone.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Reordered Love, Reordered Lives by David K. Naugle Copyright © 2008 by David K. Naugle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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