One of the trends that seems to be infiltrating Christianity today is the idea that God wants us to be happy. The theme is everywhere in books, blogs, and sermons, but is this a valid goal that God has for the Christian?
If we look to Scripture we do find many verses that speak about being happy. Here are some examples.
Job 5:17 (KJV)
Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:
Psalm 127:4-5 (KJV)
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
Psalm 144:15 (KJV)
Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD.
Psalm 146:5 (KJV)
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
James 5:11 (KJV)
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
1 Peter 3:14 (KJV)
But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
According to these verses, happiness comes from being corrected by God, having many children, being a people whose God is the Lord, being a man whose help and hope is in the Lord, keeping the the Law, enduring, and suffering for righteousness' sake.
Immediately, it should be apparent that having a pleasant or easy life is not what produces Biblical happiness. If suffering produces happiness what exactly is happiness?
Dictionary.com defines happy as:
1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing: to be happy to see a person.
2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy: a happy mood; a happy frame
3. favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky: a happy, fruitful land.
4. apt or felicitous, as actions, utterances, or ideas. (as in a happy choice - addition mine)
The world's definition of happiness carries the idea of pleasant circumstances and things that cause pleasant responses. When pastors and teachers tell their congregations, students, listeners, and readers that God wants them to be happy, the connotation of the word happy conveys something very different from what is meant Biblically. Generally speaking, Biblical happiness and the world's definition of happiness seem to be somewhat at odds. In other words, saying that God wants us to be happy is resulting in a false understanding of God's purposes.
Biblical happiness is not dependent on circumstance. A believer held in prisoner, tortured, and soon to be executed for faith in God is not happy in the worldly sense, but can be Biblically happy. Is there a better definition for Biblical happiness that we can use?
Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language has a pertinent entry:
6. Blessed; enjoying the presence and favor of God, in a future life.
This is the happiness that the Bible describes. When we are in a right relationship with God we have peace and favor with Him in this life and we have the promise of favor of God in eternal life with Him in the future.
This doesn't mean that God is opposed to our being happy in the worldly sense. When He has blessed us with good worldly circumstances, we should be grateful to Him. The way of demonstrating our gratitude is by being happy in both the worldly and Biblical sense. God rejoices in our gratitude. But when circumstances are difficult, worldly happiness is impossible, but Biblical happiness is always there to sustain us, to help us get through the difficult things of this life.
It is important that pastors and teachers do not mislead their audience into thinking the Christian life is always good, wonderful, and easy. It is not and we must tell the whole truth.
Next, we'll look more closely at God's purposes as they relate to Biblical and worldly happiness.