I decided to write on the heels of my last post where I talked about some ways we can approach our lives on a daily basis where we can feel “ok” with ourselves and the world around us, I also began to tackle the issue of happiness and what it actually means for us to be happy. I decided on this post to get more in depth with this blog. And though I greatly respect other opinions that differ from my own, and other religious (or non-religious) backgrounds that may cause you to have a different approach or understanding of the topic I’m about to share, you should know that I’ll be speaking from the perspective of Christianity because that is my background. I do not believe that only Christians can get something out of this post because I believe this is a somewhat universal topic. All I ask is that we all be open-minded and respectful of one another, and I think by the end we can maybe all land on some common ground.
I come into contact with people fairly often that base all their theology, faith, and philosophy of their life on a very simple statement: “God wants me to be happy.” But is this really true? Is that what God wants? Is that all that God wants?
Be Happy, Because I Am Happy
I’ve heard many people justify decisions, sometimes huge decisions, with the assumption that God wants them to be happy. I know a woman who wanted a divorce because she was unhappy in her marriage. When questioned about her decision, she simply said that God wanted her to be happy, and since she was unhappy in her marriage, God wouldn’t want her to be in that marriage. No matter what anyone said to her, she couldn’t be reasoned with, and ultimately divorced her husband. Does this sound like the same God of the Bible? It sure would be convenient for everyone for sure! We could basically justify any selfish action we ever make based on this theory. The problem lies within the fact that the Bible doesn’t seem to say anything to support this philosophy. Throughout the Bible, God seems to be more concerned with something else entirely…
1 Peter 1:16 says “Be holy, because I am holy.”
It doesn’t say “Be happy, because I am happy.”
Holiness vs. Happiness
The problem with happiness is that it is an emotion. Emotions are fleeting, fickle, and completely relative. God is none of these things. God is holy. Holiness is consistent, steadfast, and universal. God wants us to be holy. Holiness can happen in various ways. Circumstances can make us more holy. Experiences, hardships, and really any situation in our life that requires us to grow to be able to endure it can propel us that much closer to holiness. God wants us to see our lives through this filter. Jesus certainly did.
In Matthew 4:2-3, Jesus went into the desert and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, despite being tempted to turn rocks into bread. He could have chosen to be happy momentarily, but He chose holiness. In Matthew 15:29, Jesus was trying to rest on a mountainside when He was almost assaulted with people trying to find healing. He could have pushed them away or moved on to protect His quiet time, but instead chose to serve the people around Him. And Jesus certainly didn’t experience happiness on the cross either. Holiness has always been God’s main focus for Himself and for us.
By our holiness God finds His glory. He doesn’t get glory from our happiness.
God In All Places
This may sound like God is selfish and doesn’t care about us, but I argue that God loves us very much and still is a God of love. We just don’t understand this level of love. Nor do we understand God and we shouldn’t pretend to. God wants even more than happiness for us; He wants us to be fulfilled in His Son. Jesus is the culmination of all things created. If this is true, then glorifying God comes from serving Jesus. Serving Jesus looks a lot like loving hard to love people, feeding hungry people, and sitting with drunks, prostitutes, and bill collectors for a drink, a meal, or coffee. Some of the best moments of my life have been at a bar having deep conversations about life, religion, spirituality, and the hard things over a beer or whiskey, pipe in hand. God meets us in all places. We just need to invite Him.
God isn’t trying to make us happy, He’s trying to satisfy us. As John Piper has so famously said over the years; “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
If you are seeing it through the eyes of holiness, should the woman I spoke of earlier have divorced her husband because she was unhappy with him? What would Jesus have said to this woman if He met her at a well? But she didn’t want to hear that. Obviously there are much deeper issues at play in this woman’s heart, and sadly moving on to another guy won’t make it better. Eventually she won’t be happy with him either and she’ll move on to the next one. It’s an inevitable pattern that will continue until it’s broken. But we all do this don’t we? We all have a pattern of chasing the allusive feeling. We just want to be happy. But we are all happy sometimes! But if we are trying to be holy, we will approach any given situation very differently.
Holiness In All Reality
How are we to be holy in our relationships? In our marriage? With our families? With our in-laws? With people who aren’t like us?
Or maybe the harder questions…
How are we called to be holy to homosexuals, alcoholics, prostitutes, atheists, or just someone who doesn’t agree with our beliefs? But Jesus showed us that too, didn’t He?
Luke 15 paints a picture of Jesus stopping to eat with company otherwise rejected by “upstanding” members of society, while the church leaders rebuke his decisions and grumble to one another saying ” This man embraces sinners and chooses to eat with them!”
We also see in Luke 1 that Jesus, not excluding the church leaders who bash Him at every opportunity, had accepted an invite to one of the leaders’ home to share a meal together. No doubt there were probably ulterior motives to attempt to lure Jesus into a trap and corner Him. But none the less, Jesus shows up, sits and eats with the man, and tells him that he should be careful who he invites into his home when it comes to his peers. But then goes on to say that when he throws extravagant parties, he should invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”, and that he should not expect anything from them. By doing this, he will be considered blessed and receive compensation for his acts at the resurrection of the righteous.
I think it’s safe to conclude that God loves us, He cares for us, and wants the very best for us. But maybe we have perverted our definition of what that looks like in our lives. Maybe it’s time that we stop thinking it’s all about us and start considering the very reality that the God of the universe and all things in it has chosen to make us a part of an eternal story of love, hope, and redemption. We should seek holiness, righteousness, and grace at all costs, and finally lay to rest this foolishly empty pursuit of happiness. We can no more attain happiness than we could hold a cloud in our hands. And we certainly can no more control God than we could bottle up the sun to use as a night light.
I think it’s about time we wake up to the greater story of our lives and choose the things of God over happiness. We will find many happy moments, surrounded by many painful moments. But one thing I can promise you; You will never be empty.
How would you define holiness vs. happiness. What is your story of the pursuit of happiness? What did you learn along the way?