There’s a misconception out there. It’s one that many have bought into. It’s one that many try to use as their reasoning for their behavior. It’s a simple yet profound misconception: God wants me to be happy. Yep. That’s it right there.
It’s used a lot. I hear it a lot. God made me this way and God wants me to be happy so I’m going to live in a certain way to be happy. God wants me to be happy so I’m going to do this or that because it makes me happy. If God didn’t want me to be happy then he wouldn’t have let me do this thing or that thing. If it makes you happy, do it, because God wants you to be happy.
I’m sorry to say, but that’s not true. No where does it say that God wants us to be happy.
Now, hold on here, many say that he wants us to be happy. He even says it. Jesus even says it.
A number of times in the Old Testament, mainly in Proverbs and some in Psalms, we read “Blessed is/are” (and that’s pronounced bless-ed, the emphasis is on the ultimate syllable). This is picked up by Jesus in what are called the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 (Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn, etc). Some Bible translations such as the New Revised Standard Version translate this blessed as happy. But that’s incorrect.
What’s going on here then? Why shouldn’t blessed and happy be interchangeable?
In the Old Testament there are different words for “blessed.” The two main ones are concerning God’s blessing of people or people giving blessing to God and the other one is a person blessing another person. It’s the second word of one person blessing another that’s used much in being translated as “happy.” Same is true in the Greek. Many times in the Beatitudes instead of “blessed” it is “happy.”
Now here’s the thing (and I’m going to get all nerdy here, sorry) in Hebrew and in Greek, the words have a more nuanced and stronger meaning. According to The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, the idea of blessed isn’t as much as happy as it is being envied by others as you work towards a positive experience. In other words it could be translated as “That luck sumabit” (sorry ’bout the language). Blessed is being envied by others because of what’s going on in their life and in living in such a way that they are pursuing a positive end to something.
That’s why Psalm 1 says that a person is blessed when they delight and meditate on God’s word. It’s not to make them happy but to have them work towards such a life style that they are envied by others. The same is true in the Beatitudes. It isn’t that they are happy that they are mourning but more so someone’s looking at them saying “That lucky sumabit who’s mourning’s gonna get comforted, and that lucky sumabit who’s pure in heart’s gonna see God.” And it becomes a lifestyle of the one living this blessing to pursue this course of action in that others see what’s happening in their lives.
So what does God want of us?
He wants us to be filled with joy.
Is there a difference?
A big one.
Think about it this way: Happiness is an emotional reaction based upon external circumstances. You’re giving a gift, you’re happy. You open it up, it’s socks, you’re not happy. Unless you needed socks, then you’re happy. Joy on the other hand is an inward state of being in response to one’s relationship with God.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes a ton about joy. The thing is, is that Paul is in prison and trumped up charges. He’s been beaten, he’s chained up, he’s not in the best place. But he speaks of so much joy. In fact the word “joy” and words related to it are used so much that Philippians is called the book of joy. Paul never once talks about being happy, but he does talk about how is filled with joy at what the people in the church in Philippi are doing. He tells them to rejoice always. He counts it as pure joy as he remembers them in prayer. He has every right to be bitter and upset, yet because of the fact that he knows who he belongs to, he knows the bigger picture, he knows what’s going on, he is filled with joy not because of his circumstances but because of Jesus.
The same is true for Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Matthew when they meet the resurrected Jesus for the first time. It scares the snot out of them. They thought him dead. They thought that they too would be next. It’s early in the morning and they sneak to the tomb to pay their final respects to Jesus and he’s not there. The angel at the tomb tells the women that Jesus isn’t there. He’s raised to life. He tells them to go tell the disciples.
And we read
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy.” Matthew 28:8
The word for joy here is not the same word used in Matthew 5 for the Beatitudes in blessed or happy. It’s that innermost state of being. They were afraid. They were scared. Yet they were filled with joy because the promises of God were coming true.
Too many times we want to be happy. And when things go bad, when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when we’re all alone, we wonder what’s going on because God wants us to be happy and we’re not really happy right now. What gives.
It means you’ve bought into the misconception that God wants you to be happy. Now, God wants to take care of you. God wants to provide for you. God is going to lead you through all the crappy things in life. That is true. That is His promise to us all. He promises us that when we seek Him with all our heart He will be found by us, we will be His people and He will be our God. But he doesn’t promise it’s going to be a bed of roses. In fact Jesus promises that there’ll be a lot of thorns.
God doesn’t want you to be happy. He wants you to know the joy of Jesus. He wants you to have the joy of the gospel. And He wants you to have this joy in order to go through life in both good times and bad knowing that He who has begun a good work in you will carry it out to completion.
It’s not about happiness. It’s about God working joy in your heart.