There’s been a lot of conversation floating around about happiness lately. Much of it is due to Victoria Osteen’s comments about God being happy when we are happy (more on this later!), but the truth is that our culture has been chasing happiness since this nation’s inception. Even our Constitution includes the phrase about man’s inalienable rights: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Our culture has pervaded the church and somehow we bought into the lie happiness is one of the best things we can attain. We can’t detach it from the concept of the American dream. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we are probably all chasing some semblance of this.
The problem is that it is a physical impossibility to chase two things are once. Especially when God is in a completely different direction than the American dream.
The funny thing about all of this is that we actually aren’t happy. We’ve been chasing the wrong thing.
Our culture has a completely different concept of happiness than scripture. In fact, the word we translate as “happy” in Greek, makarios or μακαριος, doesn’t mean happiness as we mean it. Jesus used it primarily in the Sermon on the Mount and, as in other places, it is used to describe fullness in God. This is a contented joy originating in a right view of ourselves, particularly our humility, and awesomeness of God in comparison. It is almost the feeling we have when we say, “All is right in the world.” We often translate it as blessed; there is no other word in scripture for happy.
We’ve somehow substituted our culture’s happiness for God’s amazing joy.
Joy satisfies. Happiness is fleeting.
Joy defies circumstances. Happiness is situational.
Joy is about God. Happiness is about us.
That is why at first I laughed when I heard Victoria’s Osteen’s comments about God is most happy when we are happy and we should worship God because it makes us happy. And then I got angry.
I’m angry because it is a blatant and pathetic lie against the incredible character of our God. And because the Osteens are saying this from the pulpit, people are going to believe them and be led astray.
They believe religion exists to make us happy and this is the utmost God wants. They don’t really know the fullness of who God is. To know Him is to know what He desires, His greatness, His strength, His wildness, His peace, His mercy, His grace, His goodness, His justice, and His utterly epic glory. He is not little and concerned with making us “happy”; He wants us to live in a state of makarios.
God works through pain and uses it to shape and mold us. To say He only wants us to be happy ignores much of the gospels, almost all of the epistles, and completely denies the fact that all but one of the disciples was killed in a horrific way for their faith. Devotion and relationship regards of cost honors Him, not happiness and collecting stuff.
This isn’t a culturally fun message, I know. We don’t always like hearing the things that make us uncomfortable. I didn’t used to either.
To be perfectly honest, I struggled for a long time because my life wasn’t “happy”. I was diagnosed as chronically ill when I was 18 and finding out that I’ll be in constant pain for the rest of my life was devastating. This isn’t our culture’s idea of blessed. Sometimes people think I haven’t prayed hard enough or had enough faith to be healed. We don’t like acknowledging the idea that God sometimes says no.
While not fun, pain shapes us and helps shave off layers of ungodliness in our lives. We can’t hide in pain quite like we can in happiness. And God has always cared far more about our characters than our happiness.
This is why we really should be offended when people think that God wants only happiness for us. It denies all the great work He has done for us and for His glory. It denies amazing things He has done in my life through my pain and yours. It denies Him for who He is. He is the Hero.
We already approach far too much of life looking for what is in it for us. We’re consumers. If we decide life is about being happy, we lie to ourselves and think God exists for our happiness only. There is nothing innately wrong with happiness, like all emotions, but we can’t chase them. We become idolaters, worshiping ourselves and happiness instead of God; He is the means to an end.
But God is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. He is a God who wastes nothing, especially pain. This is what scripture says and if we don’t study for ourselves, we’ll be taken in by people who profess to proclaim God, but instead are selling their own version of what our culture craves. It sounds good, but it’s killing us.
I’m not pursuing happiness; it doesn’t really matter if I’m happy or not. I don’t have to pretend to be any more than I am because in my humility, I see how great God is. We are “makarios”, blessed, because He is our Hero and we can rest in this. We must worship Him for His sake only.