Does God Want You to Be Happy?

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

Maybe you’ve heard someone say it before: “God doesn’t care about your happiness, he cares about your holiness.”

Is that true? I don’t believe so.

Recently at White Fields, I taught on the subject of holiness from 1 Peter 1:13-25. You can listen to the message here: 1 Peter 1:13-25, “The H Word”. As I talked about holiness, I made the claim that the reason why God wants us to be holy is because holiness leads to happiness, and God wants us to be happy.

Holiness vs Happiness?

I have sometimes heard people say things along these lines: The world offers happiness, but God doesn’t care about your happiness, He cares about your holiness!

I completely disagree. Not only does it send the absolute wrong message, it is not accurate biblically.

Sometimes people think that holiness is opposed to happiness. “The worse something makes me feel, the better,” this thinking goes, “because the more miserable I am, the more holy and godly I must be,”

Friends, that is not holiness, that is self-righteousness.

While there may sometimes be an aspect of self-denial involved in holiness, the purpose of that self-denial is because it will lead to more happiness, not less, in the end. I will elaborate on the relationship between self-denial and happiness in a future post.

For Christians to pit holiness and happiness against each other is a fundamental error, and a misrepresentation of the heart of God and the gospel.

Jesus: Holy and Happy

In Hebrews 1:9, we are told that Jesus was: 1) holy (he loved righteousness and hated wickedness), and 2) the happiest person who ever lived (anointed with the oil of gladness beyond all his companions).

Furthermore, this verse tells us that Jesus’ happiness was the direct result of his holiness (“therefore…”).

Holiness is not opposed to happiness, rather holiness is the pathway to happiness.

Therefore, when God says “be holy as I am holy” – he is inviting us to be happy as he is happy!

But Isn’t “Joy” Different than “Happiness”?

Sometimes people have tried to make a distinction between “joy” and “happiness.” They claim that whereas “happiness” is momentary and fleeting, “joy” is something which is unemotional and doesn’t depend on circumstances.

Furthermore, this line of thinking tends to say that “happiness” is what “the world” has, but “joy” is something that only Christians can have.

This is a false dichotomy. It is well-intentioned, but incorrect, both linguistically and biblically.

Joy and happiness are synonyms. Not only does Jesus use the word “happy”, but it is found throughout the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible talks about the “joy” of the wicked (see Job 20:5), and it talks about the Pharisees having “joy” when Judas betrayed Jesus.

Consider this quote from Joni Eareckson Tada:

“We are often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness, it is said, is an emotion which depends on what happens to you. Joy, by contrast is supposed to be enduring, stemming from deep within our soul, and which is not affected by circumstances surrounding us. I don’t think God had any such hairsplitting in mind. Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words such as “delight”, “gladness”, “blessing”. There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these. Happiness is not relegated to fleshly minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.”

Our Happy God

1 Timothy 1:11 says: “…in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:11)

The word translated “blessed” is the Greek word markariou, which means: “happy”. In other words, a direct translation of the Greek text would be: “…our HAPPY God”

Furthermore, this word makarios (Greek for “happy”) is found in other places:

Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Happy is the one whom the LORD does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from all deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2 GNT)

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God. Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the LORDand they study it day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 GNT)

Lost in Translation

As to why the English translators of the Bible in the Middle Ages chose to translate the word “makarios” as “blessed” rather than “happy” is because they considered the word “happy” to be too trite, and not religious-sounding enough. However, in the process, we have lost the sense of mirth that these words were originally intended to have!

In other languages, such as Hungarian, the word “markarios” is translated as “boldog” – which is the normal Hungarian word for “happy”, rather than the word “áldott” which means “blessed”. This more faithful and straight-forward translation conveys the heart and feeling of happiness which has been lost in translation for those of us who read in English.

Charles Spurgeon and Amy Carmichael on God and Happiness

Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India who worked with exploited girls in horrendous situations, and rescued over 1000 of them in the name of Jesus. She spent the final 20 years of her life mostly bedridden. Here’s what she said during that time:

“There is nothing dreary or doubtful about this Christian life. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord, whose joy is our strength.”

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” asserted:

“God made human beings to be happy.”

“My dear brothers, if anyone in the world ought to be happy, we are those people. How boundless our privileges, how brilliant our hopes!”

Redeeming the Word

The problem is not with the pursuit of happiness, it is with the pursuit of happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. This is the essence of sin. But rather than throwing out the baby (happiness) with the bathwater (sin), we should redeem this wonderful word which is truly ours as the people of God, and pursue holiness and happiness – the former leading to the latter.

Resources

Randy Alcorn wrote a fabulous book on this subject, which I highly recommend: Happiness by Randy Alcorn

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss happiness and God:

Here is the video of my sermon from 1 Peter 1:13-25: “The H Word”:

 

6 thoughts on “Does God Want You to Be Happy?

  1. Thank you so much for this post Nick, it was truly helpful for me and my current/past situations.
    I always thought that God cared more about holiness, than whether or not I was happy since I thought happiness was synonymous with worldliness. Unfortunately, this thinking along with the idea of misery equals godliness/holiness, has impacted some major parts of my life that I wish I could re-write.
    This post was timely and something I really needed as I’m trying to figure out whether or not to switch out of a career that was has brought me exhaustion, misery, and confusion as to what God’s plan is for my life career-wise.

  2. Hi Nick, thanks for this article. I didn’t watch the videos, but if you feel they answer this follow-up question, let me know and I will. I was wondering if you’d be able to comment on the amount that happiness could/should play in the role of discerning God’s will, if the choice does not violate Biblical standards (ie. is not sinful)? My context (foreign missionary in Eastern Europe) would likely color the situation, but I’m loathe to trust my feelings in trying to decide how God is leading me. Yet, I know that God made me with feelings and it isn’t inherently wrong to desire happiness generally speaking if you are doing it to bring honor to God.

    So, to be concise, how much do you think we should involve happiness/feelings in discerning God’s will to do something?

    1. Great question! I would say that it gets to our definition of happiness. For example, in John 4:34, Jesus tells his disciples: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” In other words, Jesus got a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from doing the will of the Father, even though the things the Father called Him to do were not pleasurable. This is why we can see Jesus sweating blood in the garden and begging that the cup pass from Him, and yet – He still goes to the cross, and even though it wasn’t enjoyable to be beaten and crucified, there was still a sense of satisfaction and pleasure in doing what the Father called Him to do.
      It reminds me of how David Livingstone, on one of his trips back to England, was asked: “How have you been able to make such an incredible sacrifice, to serve God in Africa?” And Livingstone replied, “I never made a sacrifice.” While it was hard and perilous, there was also a sense of joy and fulfillment in doing that hard thing, because he knew he was doing what God called him to do.
      One last thought is that sometimes God gives us a degree of freedom in choosing what we do, either in life or for Him, and in those cases, I have found that there is not much conflict between doing what makes me happy, and serving the Lord. For example, when I was in Hungary, I had the opportunity to move to 3 different cities to plant a church. I ended up moving to a city in the mountains, partly due to the leading of the Lord, but also partly because I love the mountains. Now, I wouldn’t have moved there if God had clearly led me to one of the other cities, but given the choice, I’ll choose the place where I enjoy being!
      So, like Jesus – God will sometimes call us to do hard things, but I think that there can be a sense of happiness and joy in doing those things if you are doing them unto the Lord.

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