If Christians are supposed to have God’s joy, then why am I unhappy?
For some reason, I grew up thinking that Christians were the bubbly happy people who always had a smile and walked through their perfect lives in a ray of sunshine. On the other hand, I thought unbelievers lived under a gray cloud like Eeyore, moaning against the darkness and the lack of shelter from the storm.
Imagine my confusion when I started going to college and realized that many people who live in sin are really, REALLY happy.
On the other hand, some Christians (often including myself) seem like they can never get away from the painful resistance of temptation and the struggles of everyday life.
So what went wrong?
Often, when you observe or experience the pleasure of sin and contrast that with the cost of discipleship, it can be easy to reconsider your views. It can be easy to revert to some understanding of the prosperity gospel and wonder what went wrong with the promises of everlasting happiness.
And since there is so much confusion on this matter, let’s start with the question:
Does Sin Bring Happiness?
God never said that unbelievers were always miserable or that sin was distasteful. On the contrary, David often wonders in the Psalms why his enemies are successful. Hebrews 11:25 also mentions “the fleeting pleasures of sin.”
My life several years ago is a great example. I was in a secret relationship with a man who was separated from his wife—and I was happy. I was going to church and disregarding every teaching of the Bible about relationships—but I felt like I was in a Hollywood romance film. And when my secrets were exposed, my happiness was thrown off the beaten path and I had to reconsider where it really came from.
In the same way, sex outside of marriage can make you happy. Gossip can make you happy. Addictions to alcohol, social media, and Netflix can make you happy. So let’s stop pretending that conversion is going from misery to happiness. Rather, conversion is understanding that happiness is a beautiful gift from God—but at the same time we are called to be so much more than happy.
What Does Happiness in God Look Like?
What happens when the truth sets you free? Your heart becomes a slaughterhouse for addictions and sins, and that is painful.
One of my favorite Bible stories is found in Hosea. In this story, Hosea’s wife rejects the love of God and chooses to fill herself with sex, success, riches, and outward beauty until she is past the point of ruin. Then God beautifully reaches down into her life and takes all of her “happy things” away—but only so He can say:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. …And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:14, 19-20).
Hosea’s wife did find happiness in salvation, but it was not the happiness that she expected or sought. This is because finding happiness in God often takes Him ripping back the curtains of our lives and changing how we view our sinful treasures.
It takes bitter remorse and a desire to find ourselves in Christ because that means happiness for all of eternity—even if it means pain in fighting sin today.
How Does Happiness Fit Into the Christian Struggle?
Although the words “carefree” and “happy” are often considered synonyms, God’s happiness is much more proactive than throwing caution to the wind. He encourages us to “count it all joy” –- an act that calls to mind a new definition of happiness (James 1:2).
Sometimes this happiness feels like a sunset at the beach and sometimes it feels like a cold December evening. But the more we find our happiness in God, the more sin will seem reproachful and true happiness will begin to rise from the ruins.
So, in conclusion, Christians are called to happiness.
Not in the way we are born thinking about happiness. Not in the way that our heart seeks out fulfillment in sin. Not in the way that the world prescribes joy or represents the emotion that we so desperately desire.
Instead, we seek happiness in the way that God reveals it in the Bible—in the story of Hosea, the Beatitudes, and the gospel.
We seek happiness in the way that Paul represents it in Romans 15:13 (emphasis mine):
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
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