Friday, July 22, 2011

Does God Want Us to Be Happy?

Does God want us to be happy?

It’s a common enough question, but one which has caused many to reach the wrong conclusions. Some teach that true happiness can be derived from things — possessions, money, etc. — and therefore our pursuit of happiness should really be a pursuit of more stuff. This is commonly known as the “prosperity gospel,” and is really no gospel at all. It is a delusional attempt to justify greed, and to excuse misplaced priorities. Some even go so far as to treat God as a kind of “cosmic investment”; the more I give to Him, the more He blesses me.

There are also those who argue that God does not want us to be wealthy, but Scripture offers no support for such a position.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between joy and happiness lately. Can someone be unhappy, yet joyful? Take me as an example. I’m not particularly happy working all by myself (don’t get me wrong — I like working for myself, but not by myself). It’s hard for me to be a graphic designer in a solitary, “non-collaborative” environment.

If I believe that God wants me to be happy, whatever the cost, what should I do? Should I go work for someone else? Should I abandon the challenges of pulling a one-man job and move into something I like better? Is my relative unhappiness really an issue at all?

What if, instead of believing in an artificial “happiness” construct, I embrace what Scripture teaches about joy?
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!
(Psalm 97:11-12)
Only the upright can experience true, lasting joy; the wicked may find some semblance of “joy,” but it will only last a moment. If my walk with the Lord is lacking, I won't be joyful.
Do you not know this from of old,
since man was placed on earth,
that the exulting of the wicked is short,
and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
(Job 20:4-5)
It is God who puts joy in our hearts (Ps. 4:7), and we are told that, in His presence, there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). I think Webster’s 1828 dictionary offers some helpful comments on the meaning of the word “joy” - “the passion or emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good.” (emphasis added) Notice how even the expectation of good may excite joy? Think of heaven.

For the Christian, true joy is found in God alone, not earthly possessions. It springs from hope in His promises, regardless of our immediate circumstances. We are told to “rejoice in all things,” or “in the midst of” all things. You won’t find me overjoyed when a loved one passes away, but Lord willing, you will still find me joyful. Our joy is founded in something far greater than our temporal lives and the troubles we encounter!

I think Scripture is clear - God wants us to be joyful, not just happy.

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