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 LORD, and 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 2 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.
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”: