Does God Really Want Everyone to Be Happy?
The difference between temporary happiness and eternal joy
In the words of 17th century theologian Blaise Pascal, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.”
What provides you with happiness these days? Fine cuisine? Rare automobiles? Money? Running? Likes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like? Autumn is upon us, which means that the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte has returned once again. Does java from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Tim Hortons generate joy for you?
How about God? Does God want you to be happy? Indeed. Consider Psalm 37:4, an invitation from the Almighty to intently and earnestly seek happiness. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Jesus echoes the psalmist. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Take note of how these verses are structured though. First, make God first. Delight yourself in him first. Seek him first. Second, receive his gift.
Sadly, we tend to neglect the former and become consumed with the latter.
This must change.
The Heart Follows the Treasure
My wife and I are currently in search of a newer automobile to replace the 1999 Honda Civic LX that’s starting to ride rough and yield more frequent maintenance costs. Notice I used the word newer—not new. As a longtime fan of the Civic, why shouldn’t I opt for the 2017 Type R with a turbocharger that generates 306 horsepower and screams fast? That would bring immense happiness. But I recognize that it would be a short-lived happiness as a used Civic, meaning one with a few bumps and bruises, will also transport me around town at a more affordable cost.
Jesus references happiness during his Sermon on the Mount. He emphasizes storing up treasures in heaven, but prior to doing so, He tells his audience to resist the temptation to acquire more stuff in this life. “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Rust will inevitably destroy that 1999 Civic. The 2017 Type R will also meet this end. Accordingly, do I want my happiness to be based on treasures that will be destroyed by the elements? Or should I place my happiness in a treasure that will never rust or fade or lose its luster? Jesus leaves no doubt as He concludes his sermon. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21).
Buried in a Field
In the words of Randy Alcorn, author and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, “We should be grateful when God grants us health, provisions, and delightful surprises. But it’s one thing to be happy when such things occur, and another to believe God has failed us when they don’t.”
I’m deeply grateful for the good things that God has given me in this life. A car and a home and a bed and a pantry with food seem more like needs than wants at first glance, but there are so many on earth—millions—who go without the most basic of needs being met. Who am I to receive such simple treasures from a generous God, treasures that are easily taken for granted in the pursuit of even grander goods?
In one of his many parables, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to treasure. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). This nameless man found a treasure and became joyful. He became happy! And in his happiness, he sold all his treasures on earth for a single treasure in heaven.
This single treasure, unsurprisingly, is Jesus. He is the priceless pearl the merchant was looking for (v. 45). Randy Alcorn says as much, writing, “Shouldn’t we find even greater pleasure in anticipating the day when God will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8), permanently reverse the curse (Revelation 22:3), and unite us with our Savior and eternal family?”
The End Result of Your Faith
God wants us to be happy, but what we place our happiness in is of profound significance. Will it be in stuff that is given to rust, temporal treasures trashed by the elements?
In a parable about a rich fool, Jesus said, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Possessions make us happy, but their pleasure is brief. I like Honda Civics and Netflix and running shoes and peanut M&M’s and college football. These simple treats provide a measure of happiness; they are material blessings from a bountiful God who loves me deeply.
Happiness in Christ, on the other hand, is eternal. It has no shelf life or odometer or midsole that wears out. Stuff needs replacement. Christ is irreplaceable. The apostle Peter puts it so eloquently, stating, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Happiness is the end result of our faith.
Happiness is the salvation of our souls.