The Bible demonstrates again and again how futile it is for a person to think he is able to understand and decide by himself how to live a successful and happy life. But we keep trying.
Four centuries ago, René Descartes, elevated this human propensity into a philosophical belief systemn which says that a person can discover everything he needs to know by his own reasoning ability, beginning with the simple concept, cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). This philosophy has slowly percolated through western thought and it is now the foundation of our thinking that tradition and historical principles are a form of slavery. We should not accept any belief or authority that does not come from our own mind.
We Christians are no better. Too often we know just enough of the Bible to pick the parts that authorize us to live as we want to live. We don’t want to accept any authority that comes from outside of ourselves. We think that being Christian makes us better than other people, and we are disdainful of those looking on who don’t see us that way.
Let’s go back to the beginning. We are made of dirt, there is nothing good in us. We think of David, Jeremiah and Paul as great men of God, but listen to how they saw themselves: “verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (David, in Psalm 39:5); “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23); “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Paul, in Romans 7:18).
Jesus said: “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). Therefore, if there is to be any good in us at all, it will have to come from God. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit, not to make us perfect, not to make us feel good, not to exalt us above others, but to enable us to become what He has planned us to be, so that we can be a testimony of His goodness.
The apostle Paul was not gentle towards our feelings of self-esteem: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Galatians 6:3).
Believe it or not, this is the recipe for a useful and happy life. The old ways, the old teachings, respect for our elders and for authority, allow us to develop our ability to serve others. We don’t need to beat our head against the wall trying to make others accept our vision of reality. Contentment and inner peace come from accepting God’s revealed vision of reality and seeking approval from God.