Augustine on the pursuit of happiness

Saint Augustine famously said that we are restless until we rest in God and the discovery of his life is that true happiness can only be found in God.

Our hearts are restless

Each one of us has been formed in the image and likeness of our Triune God - that’s what we are. But due to sin, neglect and ignorance, that image has become deformed, and obscured, leaving us with a deep longing.

‘Thou hast made us toward Thyself, and our hearts find no rest until they come to rest in Thee.’

We are drawn to God because we are what we are. The deepest part of our very nature is this capacity for God and this capacity craves satisfaction and fulfilment. This yearning movement towards God needs satisfying if we are to be truly happy. 

The pursuit of happiness 

We human beings all seek happiness and the pursuit of happiness can ultimately only be satisfied in God who is our Supreme Good.

Augustine found that the yearning of the human heart for happiness and the findings of reason concerning our Supreme Good were confirmed by divine assurance and supported by the authority of divine command: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole soul and your whole mind.’ The command has no limits because the measure of this love is the utmost capacity of mind and heart and soul our whole being is drawn into this loving of God. That’s God’s command and there it is Scripture and it’s reasonable because of what we are. 

God’s love is all we need

It was the writings of Saint Paul that assured Saint Augustine of the complete satisfaction of God’s love: ‘We know that to those who love God all things work together unto good.’ 

And in one of the most wonderful passages in scripture, Paul reassures him of the permanence of this love: 

‘For I am absolutely certain that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

This is Augustine’s spirituality. It is God, therefore, ‘in following whom we live well, in reaching whom we live both well and happily’. Our desire for God is the only road that leads to Him and to happiness. This in-built desire, this longing for God, is our only road to happiness.

Uniting ourselves to God

In this life, therefore, our most important and pressing task is to unite ourselves to God by love.

‘Going in quest of God, striving to adhere to Him, reaching out for Him makes us good; attaining Him, seeing Him makes us happy.’

We are what our love makes us because the power of love is that it transforms the lover into the image of the object loved. We were formed in His image, the image was shrouded in sin, neglect and ignorance and now it is transformed again into His image. So this is our happiness, never complete in this world, but constantly strived after.

Prayer expresses our desire

This love needs a medium of expression and that need is supplied by prayer, which is the loving reaching out of the mind to God. Prayer, then, plays a very important part in our quest for happiness. It involves the descent of a loving, redeeming God in Christ, and the ascent of a loving aspiring soul, to the Triune God. 

‘The mouth speaks through the medium of words, the heart speaks through the medium of its desires. It is your heart’s desire that is your prayer.’

The only ultimate happiness open to us is the loving possession of God in the security of eternal life, until then our happiness is incomplete. Meanwhile, the Christian’s quest for happiness consists in the endeavour to adhere to God, in our efforts to unite ourselves to God by love and in our reaching out to Him in prayer. 

Prayer is the language of the heart’s yearning for God, it is the interpreter of the heart’s desire. 

‘It is with the heart we ask; with the heart we seek; and it is with the voice of the heart that the door is opened.’