All people long to find true and lasting happiness. The American Declaration of Independence says all people have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including the “pursuit of happiness.” However, many people around the world are unhappy. The UN World Happiness Report 2018 asked people in every country in the world how happy they were. People living in Finland, Norway and Denmark were the happiest. People in these countries live in stable society with a high standard of living. People living in Yemen, South Sudan and Burundi were the unhappiest. People living in these countries are experiencing terrible conflicts and are very poor with no immediate prospect of improvement.
However, people living in affluent countries also experience profound and tragic unhappiness. In South Korea many elderly people commit suicide. The tradition of children caring for their aging parents has declined in the 21st century. Elderly parents are ending their lives because they don’t want to be a financial burden on their families. There is also a higher-than-average suicide rate amongst students. One reason is the pressure put on them by their parents to succeed academically. When students fail to achieve the goals set for them by their parents, they feel they have dishonoured their families and commit suicide.
True happiness is not found in economic prosperity or academic success but in knowing God and in experiencing his grace when we fail, as we all do. King David sinned very greatly when he committed adultery with another man’s wife and then arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. After he had committed these sins David tried to hide them and to carry on as normal. But God sent a prophet to confront him and then David confessed his sin to God and experienced God’s gracious forgiveness.
David wrote about his experience of forgiveness in Psalm 32, “O, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”
The celebration of Father’s Day seems to be more low key than Mother’s Day, yet the vital role of fathers needs to be affirmed. As children are growing up they need good fathers. I am thankful that I experienced my father’s love for me. He maintained discipline in the home and sought to instil moral principles in me. There was a small stick in the home which was used, very occasionally, to correct me when I did something wrong. The main thing was not the punishment itself, but the fact that I accepted my father’s right, as the head of the family, to discipline me.
My main memories of my father, who died nearly 40 years ago, are of his loving care and constant interest in me and my life. When I was playing in the school rugby or cricket teams he would often travel many miles to be there and watch the game. It was good to talk together later about the match and to identify the things I could do better. In this, and other ways, my father played a key role in my growth and development. He also wisely provided for my daily needs making sure that I had enough but not too much.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer it took a little time to realise that the situation was serious. He had two operations, neither of which succeeded in removing all the malignant tumours. Over the weeks that followed he gradually grew weaker as he fought a number of infections. When I visited him in hospital it was a time for me to try to help and encourage him. We were able to talk about ultimate realities and to pray together. It was a precious time.
Before his first major operation my father read the Gideons’ New Testament which was by his bedside. He read God’s answer to Paul’s prayer for healing. God did not promise Paul that he would be healed but told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” These words gave my father a peace and strength when, the next day, he went to the operating theatre. He didn’t know what the outcome would be, but he knew that, whatever happened, God, his heavenly Father, would be with him. Many children today have not experienced the love of an earthly father, but all of us can, in Jesus, find and know the love of a heavenly Father.