At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Does God Want You to Be Happy?

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Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

– Psalm 37:4-6

“You are responsible to keep yourself happy,” Joel Osteen writes in a recent Facebook post. This is a very troubling statement given the Church’s embrace of the current culture’s definition of happiness.

Happiness has come to be understood by Christians and non-Christians alike as the individual’s experiential satisfaction. Happiness is measured by experiences that are emotionally satisfying.

Ours is a culture in which the managed pursuit of pleasure is seen as the ultimate measure of one’s happiness. Even in the Church this pursuit of happiness has been used to justify all types of sin.

“Being with her makes me happy,” says a man defending an adulterous affair. “I’m just not happy!” says a woman planning to divorce her husband of thirty years without biblical justification. These are statements made by Christians trying to justify to themselves that their experiential happiness trumps God’s plan.

In God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis writes,

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

Lewis observes in Mere Christianity that it is futile to seek happiness apart from God. Man has been “designed” to find his purpose and happiness only in his Creator.

Lewis’s words echo the early church father Augustine, who argued human beings can only flourish and be truly happy when they center their lives on God, the source of everything good, true, and beautiful.

If Lewis and Augustine are correct, then happiness and flourishing cannot be found in violating God’s commandment, but in being obedient. Happiness for the Christian is not found in fulfilling one’s own pleasure, but in living a life based on God’s design as expressed in Scripture.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward (Hebrews 11:23-26).

Moses forsook “enjoyment” and “pleasure” in order to secure real happiness.

The Bible talks about happiness, but defines it differently than our culture. When the Bible mentions happiness, it is speaking of something that is self-contained. You can experience happiness regardless of your circumstances. The happiness the Bible advocates isn’t dependent your circumstances. It comes from living in relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In a forthcoming research paper for IFWE, biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington writes:

…human flourishing must be rediscovered as a central part of the Bible’s teaching on salvation and redemption. God is not unconcerned about our well-being and happiness; peace, happiness, blessedness, health, joy, and abundance of life are the consistent message of Scripture and the goal of God’s work.

At IFWE we talk about the importance of flourishing and how it glorifies God. We are not using the current cultural definition, but one in alignment with scriptural teaching. More about this in my next post.

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  • L K

    I can’t TELL you how many times I have considered this. Interesting, but for me, not a question of the difference between sinful pleasure and the joy of heavenly reward. Its more subtle and has troubled me at times. For the believer its a question of selflessness or not, I think. When we are obedient, and care for others, we do sacrifice something of ourselves – time, effort, money, our own goals, etc. It really stings sometimes. Guilt kicks in, which is never a joyful state.
    Acting out of love makes the actions for others so much easier, and I have used the “fake it til you make it” maxim one more than one occasion. And these are folks I do love.
    The problem, at least for me, is that when one is NOT needed, and so now has some say over my time (kids off to school, family fairly stable, etc.) I feel a huge gap and frankly, I forgot how to have fun. Seriously. It feels wrong, and so I looked for additional volunteer opportunities and have prayed for leading, but its not forthcoming. It is so not the nature of the God that I have found to say, “just grind your way through life and I will reward you in the end”. I know that. But I guess there is another gap in my understanding of how He might say, “sure, blow that money on the travel, the party, the dress…and just laugh for a while.” I don’t want to end up bitter.
    Maybe you can advise some reading???

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