The details may vary, but the basic story is the same, and becoming more common with the passing of time. These are tragic episodes that utterly baffle the minds of family and long-time friends.
A Christian man, very active in the church, meets a woman in a store in which he occasionally shops. The lady is quite cordial and they strike up a friendship. Eventually, they exchange e-mail addresses and begin a correspondence. The messages ultimately become passionate.
One day the man informs his wife that he is leaving her. He claims to have found the “love of his life,” and has come to savor a “happiness” that has been unrivaled in previous years. He believes God wants him to be “happy,” and this new relationship seems to be the epitome of his dreams. The immorality is “justified” with the rationalism of “happiness.”
A Christian young lady of college age increasingly becomes discontented with her family and church life. She complains that she is restless with her environment. She cannot precisely identify the problem, but says she is just “unhappy” and feels that she must explore various avenues of life in her quest for fulfillment. After all, she says, “God wants me to be happy.”
And so she gathers a few belongings and migrates to a notoriously evil, metropolitan city. The last anyone hears of her, she is working in some den of debauchery. Eventually she vanishes altogether into a black hole of reckless abandon, never to be heard from again. Did she find the “happiness” she so irresponsibly sought? One can confidently state that she did not.
The foregoing actual case histories (though slightly altered in some details) are not unlike the narrative in Luke 15, in Christ’s parable of the “prodigal son.” Gathering his prematurely derived inheritance, a young man left a loving father and journeyed into a “far country.” In this story, the “father” represents God, while the profligate reflects the “free-spirited” rebel who is ever in that illusive quest for “happiness.”
As the informed Bible student knows, he ended up foraging for his food amongst a herd of pigs. In his new neighborhood of stench, there was no “happiness.” It was only when he “came to himself,” returned to his father, that genuine contentment settled into his heart.
What vast multitudes do not realize is this: the Lord’s definition of “happiness” is not that of the common human perception of this much-sought, highly elusive emotion. In the divine “lexicon” of emotions, “happiness” is not grounded in physical and material goals; and most especially not in that which is in clear violation of the Lord’s expressed Will.
The Moses Case
One needs to remind himself occasionally of that passage which describes the temperament of the noble Moses.
“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward” (Hebrews 11:23-26).
The truth is, Moses forsook “enjoyment” and “pleasure” in order to secure real “happiness.” How wonderful it would be if everyone could discover his secret.
The companion terms, “enjoy” and “pleasure,” are not without importance. There is a measure of these sensations in many pursuits of life — even in varieties of sin. But “enjoyment/pleasure” is not “happiness” in the ultimate sense of the latter term. The Lord God is not going to reward drunkenness, drug abuse, and fornication with “happiness.” What an insulting view of the Creator this is!
When we moderns think about “happiness,” we are extremely casual in the manner in which we employ the term. One may be “happy” for his daughter’s forthcoming marriage. Another is “happy” with his new automobile. Many are ecstatically “happy” when their favorite sports team wins. The list of these frivolously “happy” attainments is endless. Generally, the adjective is associated with some of the most mundane experiences of human existence. Little wonder so many souls are “unhappy.” They don’t even know what happiness is!
The term “happy” is found approximately 28 times in the English Bible (KJV; ASV). A survey of those texts reveals that happiness, as viewed by the Creator, always has to do with a spiritual exercise. It is a service to God that embodies an eternal hope.
The common Hebrew term is asre. It frequently is used as an interjection of elation, as in: “Oh, the blessedness of,” or “How happy, truly happy is he....”
The expression is clustered among such texts as these: “happy is the people whose God is Jehovah” (Psalm 144:15). Happy is the person whose “hope is in Jehovah his God” (Psalm 146:5). Happy is the one who seeks and embraces true wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:13). Happy is he who has a healthy respect for [not slavish fear of] God’s expectations; on the contrary, the one who hardens his heart falls into mischief (Proverbs 28:14). “Happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers; but his delight is in the law of Jehovah; and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
In his book, Mere Christianity, British philosopher C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) observed that it is a futile exercise to seek happiness apart from God. Man has been “designed” to find his purpose, indeed his happiness, only in his Creator. In fact, Lewis insists, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing” (54). We were made to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7), and apart from that thrilling enterprise, there is no real contentment in human existence.
A New Testament Portrait
In the New Testament, a term that conveys the idea of happiness is makarios, usually rendered “blessed.” The word is found about 50 times in the New Testament documents; it dominates the early portion of Christ’s “sermon on the mount,” and is found significantly in the book of Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14).
Scottish scholar, William Barclay, has provided a most interesting study of this word (I.89). He says that makarios “describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life.”
By way of contrast, mere human “happiness” reveals its own character. The component “hap” suggests “chance.” Happiness, as we commonly evaluate the term, is that which depends upon the vicissitudes of life. Happiness changes with one’s circumstances; today one may be happy, but tomorrow he will be forlorn.
At the commencement of his renowned “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus taught that the truly “blessed” (happy) are those who acknowledge they are spiritual paupers without God, who weep over their sins, thus seeking Heaven’s pardon.
The happy are those who meekly submit themselves to divine control, who incessantly hunger and thirst for the spiritual righteousness that truly satisfies.
They lovingly extend mercy to others, just as they have received it from the Lord. They happily maintain pure (unmixed) motives that are focused upon God; they strive to live at peace with their Maker and others.
These are so spiritually dedicated that even persecution cannot extinguish their joy. One cannot but think of Paul and Silas, singing praise/prayer to God — even with shredded, bloody backs in a Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:23-25).
How very foolish we are when we allow ourselves to be enticed from godliness by the temporal and exceedingly shallow emotions of passing mirages that will prove to be nothing more than cruel illusions in the eternal order of things.
As devout Christians, we need to pray that we enter not into such temptations (Luke 22:40). In reality, they are far more common than we realize, and are becoming more so in an increasingly crass world.