[Note: unless otherwise stated, the translation I used for this blog was KJV. This is important if you wish to look up the scriptures and find the word “happy” in them. Many other translations switch out the word for “blessed,” “faithful” etc.]
Quite often I have noticed people defending their behavior by saying “God wants me to be happy, and doing this makes me happy.” When I see that argument I want to simply respond “God could not care less about your happiness if it means you are sinning” (I might have said that before. I can’t rightly recall), but that really isn’t the best response in the world. So I decided to research the matter.
First, before anything else is said, the question should be asked if God does want us to be happy. So, does God want us to be happy? Yes, He does. Scriptures bear this out in passages such as Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, 3:12-13 and 5:18-19 which tells us that God wants us to be happy on earth as we work hard and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Now that it is established that God wants you to be happy, a distinction needs to be made on what sort of happiness is of God. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, here today and gone tomorrow. It is, of course, rather silly to try and live a life focused on being forever happy. It isn’t going to happen, because we live in a corrupt world where our happiness will eventually be crushed by some mishap or another, and we will have to deal with those unhappy emotions for a time before we can be happy once more. (As a side note to myself, I do believe I will have to make a thread on the difference between joy and happiness now)
Roget’s II New Thesaurus defines happiness as “A condition of supreme well-being and good spirits: felt great happiness on her wedding day” and gives the following words as synonyms: beatitude, blessedness, cheer, cheerfulness, gladness, joy.
Three words of note are “beatitude,” “blessedness,” and “joy.” In Matthew, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a list of 9 beatitudes. One should note that none of these beatitudes are tied up in what society traditionally tells us will bring happiness. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Here we learn that happiness comes from abstract circumstances tied up in the betterment of one’s spiritual life.
Interesting note, when comparing the use of the word “happy” between the KJV and the NIV, the word “happy” is often replaced with “blessed” in the NIV. Just to name a very few, Job 5:17, Psalm 127:5, Psalm 128:2, Proverb 14:21. Here we see, then, that happiness is usually a blessing from God. Psalm 146:5, for example reads “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help…” in the KVJ, whereas the NIV states “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob...”
Quite often, it is displayed in the Bible that true happiness comes from a life centered around God by serving God, relying on God, living for God, correction handed down from God, etc (Deut 33:29, Job 5:17, Psalm 127:5, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 144:15, Psalm 146:5, Proverb 3:13, Proverb 14:24, Proverb 16:20, Proverb 28:14, Proverb 19:18, John 13:17, James 5:11, 1 Peter 3:14, 1 Peter 4:14).
In contrast, Genesis 30:13 gives us an example of how selfish motives to try to bring about happiness will fail. Leah named her son “Asher,” meaning “happy.” Leah was happy because she had a 2nd son and was sure this would make Jacob love her finally. She was looking for happiness in the wrong place, though, because Jacob didn’t love her, and she ended up unhappy once more. Instead of focusing on the fact that God had blessed her with two sons, she was too concerned with something she would be unable to change.
The best way to achieve happiness is to focus on what God has blessed you with, and to focus on pleasing God. Happiness is a choice. As my friend’s mom once said “I choose each morning to be happy.” Whether things go the way you want or not, you can be happy if you want (in general).
Now, after looking at happiness that is in line with God’s will for our life, let us look at forms of happiness that have nothing to do with God’s desire for your well-being (yes, we are finally getting to my opinionated part of the blog). Quite often, Christians will say the rather asinine line “God wants me to be happy, so I can [insert sin here] because it makes me happy.”
As already covered, God allows your happiness when it is in line with His word, and you can achieve Godly happiness by studying God’s word and applying it to your life. God does not care for sin (understatement of the month?), and, more than our happiness, God’s desire is for us to be holy. Holiness is what God wants from His children (just like any good parent, He cares more about your character than about your personal happiness).
It is important to note that God never once states in the Bible anything along the lines of “Be happy always, My children.” In fact, in Leviticus 19:1 God states “…You shall be holy, for I, the ETERNAL your GOD, am holy”(The Margolin Edition Torah). We can also find this command from God backed up in 1 Peter 1:15-16 (among other verses).
God requires many things of us –holiness, obedience, love, etc- but in no passage of the Bible does it say God requires happiness from us. In fact, it would appear that happiness might quite often be in direct contrast to the requirements of a Godly life. We are told by God that we will experience persecution for His name’s sake (Matthew 24:9 NIV); we are told to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23); we are told to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). Any type of happiness you get from partaking in sin will not line up with these scripture verses. So, any time you do something that contradicts scripture, it is not the type of happiness God wants you to experience.
Frankly, if you have to use the excuse “God wants me to be happy, so [insert sin here] is okay” in order to do something, you should know what you are doing is wrong.
So basically, “To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:26 NIV)