A recent Saturday Night Live sketch featured SNL alum Adam Sandler as the host of a fake tour company. The premise of the parody commercial is explaining what his Italian tour company can (and cannot) do for customers.
If a person is unhappy in America, they will be the same unhappy person in Italy. “You’re still gonna be you on vacation,” Sandler’s character points out. Sandler continues, “there’s a lot a vacation can do – help you unwind, see some different looking squirrels – but it cannot fix deeper issues: like how you behave in group settings or your general baseline mood. That’s a job for incremental lifestyle changes sustained over time.”
It’s a humorous sketch, but it’s also telling the truth. He gets to the existential angst of being underwhelmed by the things we look to as sources of happiness.
It’s tempting to put our hopes into worldly things, but none of them was made to sustain or fill the human soul. In “Mere Christianity,” Lewis makes another profound observation “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”
Intuitively, there are things that seem like they should make us happy: like a trip to a beautiful place. But we’re so often left underwhelmed by the things we look to for real happiness.
C.S. Lewis said in his great sermon “The Weight of Glory” that “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We can enjoy a great meal, a great trip, a great accomplishment. But those are meant to all be enjoyed in the light of the good God who made them. They are not to be ends in themselves.
Quoting again from C.S. Lewis, “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Our trips, our toys, our accomplishments, even our relationships. All of those are good things. But none of them is the ultimate thing, because none of those things is God. We all have something we desire above all other things, and that becomes our God. But anything other than the Lord will never live up or satisfy.
In C.S. Lewis’s book the Great Divorce, a character asks “what are we born for?” The response their given, “for infinite happiness.”
What are you looking to for meaning?
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.