Charles Dickens began his classic novel, A Tale Two Cities, with the statement, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." I think that is also an accurate assessment of American culture today. In many ways, we never have seen better times. But in many ways, we never have seen worse times.
Remember that often-repeated phrase from a couple of elections ago? "It's the economy, stupid." Well, it is not the economy; it is more than that. When our economy was strong, our morals were low. Now when our economy is struggling, our morals are still low.
I think the answer could be found in a statement Abraham Lincoln made:
We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand, which preserved in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us. We have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our heart that all of these blessings that we see in our country were produced by superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Honest Abe had it right. We have forgotten God. This has been especially evident over the last decade in court battles over the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools and the display of the Ten Commandments in public places.
Yet before us in the Ten Commandments, we find God's blueprint for a society. One of the original reasons for the success of our country is found in its origins and its adherence to these absolutes given to us by God Himself.
These principles are not only good for a nation, but for individuals as well. The Bible says that if we want to live fulfilling, productive, and indeed, happy lives, then we need to know God, walk with Him, and keep His commandments.
Some people think they can break God's commandments with abandon, but without repercussions. Solomon knew a little bit about breaking commandments. He was a man who went on a massive backslide. You can read his story in the Old Testament's Book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon had unlimited resources. Whatever he wanted was his. But after sampling everything this world had to offer, he said, "Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person" (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NLT).
Solomon was saying, "Listen. I have been through the school of hard knocks. I know what I am talking about. Fear God and keep His commandments. Chasing after all of these other things is empty. It is unfulfilling."
In his own words, he said it was like "grasping for the wind" (see Ecclesiastes 6:9).
God has given us a blueprint for happiness. We think it comes from freedom from all constraints. But this isn't true. Happiness comes from staying within the walls of protection that God has given us in His Word.
We are now seeing the final results of that great social experiment that began in the 1960s. We can clearly conclude that it was a colossal failure as we cast aside absolutes like family and fidelity and honesty and compassion and all the rest, and chased after what we wanted. As the Scripture says in Psalm 1,
Blessed [or happy] is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (vv. 1-3 NKJV)
Do you want to be a happy person? It is found in doing the right thing. It is also found in not doing the wrong thing.
You are not going to find happiness in materialism. You are not going to find it in a career. You are not going to find it in a relationship. You are not going to find it in sex. You are not going to find it in drugs. You are not going to find it in anything this world has to offer.
Do you want to be a happy person? Live God's way. Do you want to be an unhappy person? Live your own way.
The story of Johnny Cash’s life and spiritual struggles offers hope to anyone who has had trouble staying on the straight and narrow path—and reminds us that God redeems broken lives and makes them whole again. My new book, Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon is a fascinating look at a unique and talented musician and follower of Christ!