I saw this little image posted on facebook by a family friend. These kinds of postings look great on the outside, who doesn't want to be happy after all, but they tend to grate me the wrong me. I think a message like this, which can be very self-indulgent, makes it so much harder to be a Christian. What about when I am no happy? Don't I deserve to be? Do I need to stick by my vows and responsibilities in order to fulfill my longing for happiness? Which comes first?
Let me go deeper into why I found this particular saying disturbing.
I have always thought of “happiness” as such a wishy-washy thing. Food makes a food addict happy. Crack makes a crack addict happy. Murder makes a serial killer happy. Consuming more than my fair share of natural resources makes me happy. Happiness is a temporary state that is dependent upon some external factor, and can often be at the expense of others. Happiness is a good feeling for the person experiencing it, but it can often have negative consequences for others.
Joy, on the other hand, is a word that is much more commonly used in the Bible, and talks about a more enduring state. In contrast to the more wishy-washy "happiness", Joy is true contentment which comes from internal factors like one’s relationship with the Lord. Joy does not depend on circumstances. Joy is not an emotion as much as it is a state of being. Joy is a fruit of the spirit, while happiness is just an emotion.
One of the differences between joy and happiness is that joy can can even be experienced in times of sadness. What does that mean?
Consider James 1:2:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds
Was James another one of those people trying to convince us that unpleasant things are fun? Like going to the dentist? Actually, he had a point here that one must look deeply to see. Because Joy is a state of being, it does not change depending on the emotions we feel. Joy can result even when there is sadness, difficulty, and struggle.
The second issue I have with this saying is the word “deserve”. I believe that a believer should not adhere to words like deserve, because everything we have is a result of God's grace.
Take a moment to read Titus 3:3-7:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
The verse above shows why you and I, true believers in the message of Jesus Christ, cannot use such a word. Because we know that Christ came to save us, that our own works are worthless and we owe our salvation and all that we are to God’s love and generosity. Not only do we not deserve happiness, we deserve nothing but death for our rebelliousness to God, but God gave us the gift of eternal life anyway. We deserve nothing but death, and he made us his heirs. How beautiful and wonderful is that?!
Don't get me wrong, happiness is a good thing. But God works all things for our good, not our happiness. Sometimes what is good for us, what brings us to the best place for him to work in us and mold us, is not what makes us happy. You have only to crack your Bible open to the book of Job to see what I am talking about. But for believers, we know we deserve noting but God's grace, and we can still go on living joyfully even if happiness is illusive.