"God Wants Us To Be Happy"?

The idea that, "God wants us to be happy," is the basis for a lot of bad theology in our day and age.

Happiness is elusive... even in supremely comfortable, desirable, and wonderful situations, many people will not "feel" happy... and even in supremely difficult situations, some people choose to be content and pleasant and might even feel happy.

While I'm sure God doesn't mind in the least if we're happy, I don't believe His main "want" is for our own happiness-- rather, it is-- primarily-- for His own glory and, secondarily, for our good. His glory and our good do not always add up to us being happy... they may at times, and they may not at other times. Particularly if our feelings of "happiness" depend on being able to have our own way, which they often do.

If God just wants us to be happy, then He sure has unnecessarily burdened many people with sadness and suffering and certain unhappiness, including Joseph, Hosea, Paul, Hagar, Leah, and Stephen (and me! can I make the list?), but above all-- Christ Himself . Happiness, I daresay, was not the ultimate aim there. Nor is it, I'd put forward, His aim for us today.

Joy may indeed be a derived and intended result from His will for us... but instead of joy through feelings of happiness, it may at times be joy through contentment: in pain, hardship, and sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Considering all of this, while I'm confident that God offers immeasurable joy to His children, we need to beware any theology based on shaky sentences like, "God wants us to be happy".

25 comments:

Julie said...

Oh, this is a hard concept to nail down! I work with 7th-8th grade girls at church, and trying to express this idea to them is hard. Blank stares. :)

Now that I am a wise 29 years of age (wink, wink) I realize that the BEST times in my life have been some of the most difficult times. I remember getting a glimpse of this in others' lives when I was a young lass. And thinking--I want a little suffering, so that I can love Jesus like this person does! Now that's probably bad theology, too, but I think that I was beginning to understand that our amazing God is able to take even the most heart-wrenching situations and use them to bring joy in our lives. The whole Joseph story--What was meant for evil, God meant for good. When we go to Him immediately in response to suffering, I believe that we will begin to experience that mysterious Joy, which is so much better than fleeting happiness.

(Not that I always do this...!)

Maybe we could say, "God wants us to be happy IN HIM!"

Mandi said...

I've always heard that God cares more about our holiness than our happiness, ALWAYS good to have a reminder!
I think sometimes we forget that our character develops best in moments that we aren't what the world would call 'happy'. Maybe it's time to un-brainwash ourselves and stop using that word at all?
We CAN be joyful always which is what I'm trying to teach my children!
Have a great week

Miranda said...

I really think it's important we realize happiness (or joy) is the chief aim of God's work in us because it is the only reason we sin - we believe sin offers us something we will enjoy more than God can - so we must be bound in heart (i.e. - joy) in God more than anything else...not just merely a unemotional choice to obey. Having said that I do believe that it's not just something we drive after thats not attached to holiness. If we are truly, at the root core happy in Christ we will see genuine growth in holiness.....

A good article you can read is here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/85
_Christian_Hedonism/1185_Treating_Delight_As_Duty_Is_
Controversial/
or listen to this sermon: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/
Sermons/ByTopic/85/
404_The_Happiness_of_God_Foundation_for_
Christian_Hedonism/.

Let me know what you think of them.
Thanks for all your encouragement here on the blog.

Jess said...

Miranda,
Yup, we're on the same wavelength. I love Piper's thoughts on this. I'm not in any way saying that we shouldn't be happy in Christ. or that true happiness is not found in Christ. Far from it!

But I'm saying that when we have a theologically-empty, feeling-based faith, we miss the big picture, and we're very quickly going to either drift towards a lukewarm faith that has all sorts of Oprah-isms/New Age thought at its core, or boldface away from Christ. (Which, really, is the same thing.) Either way, we are running away from truth when we chase after feelings rather than God.
~Jess

Polly said...

Yes, I agree. Feel-good theology may be somewhat appealing, but I do not really think it is correct. I believe He does want us to be joyful in our circumstances--joy due to the fact that Jesus Christ lived and died. I've experienced several intense periods of true unhappiness that still had some joy. Feelings are fickle--a steadfast faith is the key.

Renee said...

Good Word Jess!

I have often found the quote "God is more concerned with our character than our contentment"
to be true.

Anonymous said...

I was listening to the news yesterday and was surprise to hear a certain persons views on what brings happiness. I was so disappointed because she believed everyone deserves to be happy, she would therefore change her view of an ongoing pursuit of pushing the gay rights on Americans. I thought to myself boy are they wrong in thinking happiness comes from a life of sin, the only way to true happiness/joy in life is through are Lord Jesus. Thank-you for bringing this topic up because it sure gets blurred in our society of what true happiness is or what brings happiness.
Monica

Mrs said...

Amen, Jess!

God loves us and sent His Son.

Boy, does that make me happy!

Worship without heart is dead doctrine.

Worship with all heart and no truth is emotionalism.

I know that when I measure God's love for me by how happy I feel, I am falling into the trap of emotionalism. How good and right to be able to remember TRUTH: God loves me and sent His Son.

Amazingly, peace proceeds happiness when I remember that.

Kimberly said...

I smiled as I read this, yes, I am generally smiling and happy, but know that is not God's highest calling on my life. It made me think of why I flee from promises in titles that want me to have the Best Life Now. *ahem* I don't want my best life now. This is earth. I want my BEST life there--in heaven.
He never promised we'd be happy. He promised He'd be with us.
I'd rather that, wouldn't you?
That being said, I'll still keep smiling. ;)

Brittany said...

I"m sure you have no idea who I am but I read your blog everyday. I left you something on my blog so be sure to check it out.
Brittany

Linda said...

Hi, Jess. I'm not sure if I've ever commented here, since I've seemed to take a break from visiting many blogs these past few months. But I really like yours, so I'm back.
This was a good post. Sometimes I think we tend to think that if we have happy feelings that we are victorious in Christ. But even sin is pleasurable for a season, but definetely not overcoming. Joy I think is based on our trust and faith in God, who places this assurance of joy in our hearts. Something not easily moved -like our feelings.
Hope you have a great day.

Sincerely,
Linda

Tanya said...

I have been happy and I have been joyful. I'll take the joyfulness over the happiness any day - it's much more fulfilling. How did I get that joyfulness? Obedience and many trials.

Great post, Jess.

homeskoolmommy said...

Amen! Thanks for such an honest post. I get very frustrated with ear tickling phrases such as "God wants us to be happy." Yes, He wants us to have joy, and He wants what is best for us, but some of our greatest growth comes through the difficult trials that we go through, which are not happy times in the least. I believe that we can truly please Him when we can learn to be content and even joyful in the midst of our trials and troubles. When we can trust Him and even thank him for what He is going to do in us and through us because of those hard times.

Anonymous said...

This is the type of topic that is easily blurred when expressed in English! I agree with the above writers who focus on holiness and character.

I think it's easy to get confused because once a person has developed a strong sense of faith, they are NOT rattled by hardship. With faith, they DO remain happy.

So then when they want to share that experience of faith with a friend, it sometimes comes out as "I'm happy because I have faith and God wants you to have that same faith-generated happiness."

I do believe that God wants us to have faith and that faith generates happiness and contentment even in hardship.

Amy

Deb Burton said...

Well said. I'm so sad at the number of Christians who buy into this concept, but sadder yet that there are leaders who promote the concept.

Our Christianity has never been about us. It's not even about our salvation, which we never deserved to begin with. It is all about honoring and glorifying the God of the universe. That He gave us unmerited grace in the form of salvation from our sins just shows how BIG He really is.

God doesn't need me, but it is my greatest pleasure to serve Him, and THAT puts a smile on my face! :)

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Wow! Fantastic post! You mind if I cross-post it?

Clare said...

Happiness is a transient feeling of pleasure resulting from favourable circumstances or enjoyable experiences. Joy, on the other hand, is a deep-seated abiding experience springing from the Holy Spirit's presence and work in our inner man, and is completely unrelated to our outward circumstances; hence, we may know joy in the midst of suffering and hardship. It is a fruit of the Spirit, gained from yielding to His control and being filled by Him. Happiness is the common experience of all men, but true joy is only available to the redeemed.
Nowhere in Scripture are we told to seek after happiness. However, Jesus did say "These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:11) He promises us JOY, not happiness! Happiness is the scraps under the table that the dogs snap up, while joy is the whole banquet!
And suffering is definitely part of the deal for us: we are actually called to suffer. "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:" (see I Peter 2:19-21) Further, when we suffer for doing right, it's not because we didn't have enough faith to pray ourselves out of it, it's God's will: "Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." (see I Peter 4:12-19)
"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2) As young believers, we start our journey conformed in our thinking to this world, but as we feed on the
Word of God, he transforms us by renewing our minds with Scripture, so that we are then able to discern what is his will, and what is acceptable to him.
As believers, we need to stop getting our ideas from the world, and start allowing God to renew our minds by letting the Word wash over us and cleanse us!
Thanks for this opportunity to mull this over, and do a little digging around in the Bible to clarify my thoughts on this subject!

NCLighthousekeeper said...

Great post! I think it is important to distinguish between happiness and joy, and what is at its source, especially at this time of year when many fall into depression, I think because they do not feel "happy".

Beth

Kelly said...

Well said!!!!!!!

Shay said...

Good stuff. It reminds me of something Oprah once said, about how being grateful will bring about more good things in your life.... she focused on a reward for being grateful, rather than being grateful as a feeling or act of thankfulness. It just reminded me of how utterly self-focused and backwards this society has become. Happiness has become a right, rather than a privilege. Sad times.

Sanders said...

Great post! So often I get bogged down with the day to day and forget this... I start placing my 'wants' as the goals (how much 'personal, craft, blog' time I can squeeze out of each nap-time, etc.). I needed to hear this today! Thanks!

Lindsey said...

When I read the book, "Sacred Marriage" one of the first sentences was that God wants us to be Holy, not happy. A hard, hard reality to remember in a society where even the basic, average Christian feels that God wants to give happiness.

Anonymous said...

I believe God is more concerned with what we do than how we feel about it.

A happy person can do evil, an unhappy person can do good, and vice versa.

Some people who are joyful and content in their own spiritual lives don't lift a finger to help others in need. Is that what God wants for us?

I think it's very easy for human beings to assume that God wants them to do whatever they want to do anyway. If they decide to get married, then God wanted them to marry that person. If they decide to take a new job, it's what God wanted them to do with their lives.

We are on shaky ground when start down this line of reasoning.

Laurie B

Ruth said...

Amen!

Shannon said...

Hey Jess! Great post, I too think we need to be careful how we phrase things and learn that walking out faith cannot be basing it on feelings. But, I do beleive happiness is something God wants from us. Psalm 144:15 says "Happy are the people who's God is The Lord". I am sure different versions may use a different word there, but I just wanted to throw in that happiness is from God and he does want us to be happy!!!