This morning I watched a YouTube video about happiness. It was full of pop psychology and odds and ends from eastern and western thought, so I’m not sure it was exactly an hour well spent! But it did get me thinking about what God has to say on the topic of happiness.
Certainly, as a society we are obsessed with happiness! There are oh so many books, YouTube videos, TED talks, BUZZ Feed lists, articles on thousands of websites, seminars we can attend, etc. etc. We all want to be happy! And rather than stamp on this idea in a ‘life as a Christian should be boring and dutiful’ kind of way, a Biblical worldview tells us that this is because we are genuinely built for a deep soul happiness.
However, we currently live in a broken world, which is waiting to be remade, and whilst we are here, we all catch glimpses of that kind of happiness, but too often it flutters through our fingers. We search and find echoes of it. Sometimes we taste something close to the real thing – standing on a mountain, eating an amazing meal with friends, meeting the love of our lives – and other times we chase after it in all the wrong ways.
But can we know it in reality here? And is God really necessary for that?
What does the New Testament say?
As you probably know, the New Testament was written in Greek, the international language of its day. The word the Greeks used for happiness (or maybe more accurately human flourishing or well-being) was εὐδαιμονία. It is a word you might expect to be splashed across all the New Testament scriptures, and yet, it’s just simply not there.
But human happiness didn’t somehow slip God’s mind when he was inspiring the New Testament. It is just that he is interested in a richer, deeper kind of happiness: the kind of happiness that is dynamically related to him. It is an active, relational happiness, a rejoicing, that fills the pages of the New Testament. A delighting, worshipping, praising kind of happiness!
“Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13)
The word for happy here can be translated as cheerful. So, if our mood is happy and cheerful, then that should overflow in praise.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
It is rejoicing in the God who has blessed us that enriches our happiness, so that it is something deeper, more transforming. He is endlessly good, endlessly wonderful – there is always more to delight in!
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
This kind of praise-filled joy is a gift from the Lord, a fruit of his Spirit; one that we need to cultivate in our lives, so that it becomes the very grain of our hearts.
Even when there is nothing materially to be that excited about, the Christian can always rejoice in the God who became man to reconcile his people back to himself. We can have the party spirit of the end of the parable of the lost son. We were dead, and now we are alive! We were nobody, fit only to be slaves, and now we are sons and daughters of the God of the Universe!
But I know Jesus and I still feel miserable…
There are many things that rob us of happiness. Physical and emotional exhaustion. Hormones. Stress. Unrelenting suffering. Depression. Grief. These things are real, and deep sadness is part of human experience in this broken here-and-now – even Jesus wept and sweat blood – but God wants to minister to us in the now:
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
… and he wants to welcome us into eternal joy, where there will be no more mourning, or tears, or pain.
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:23)
Just think about Elijah. He was exhausted, discouraged, depressed and suicidal. The Lord met his physical needs, and showed him his soul-restoring glory, and gave him a friend and supporter in Elisha. Then when the time was right, God swept him up into the joy of his presence forever.
“And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11)
God is far more committed to your lasting joy than you have ever been. Jesus died to make it possible!