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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Hey Evan, you’re a writer? I just saw that in your bio. What do you write?
Well, I write poetry and I also write books. It’s kinda hard to explain my book cause it’s complex to say the least. It could fit into at least 4 different genres of writing . I label it Christian Psychotic Dystopian Fantasy. I call it Christian cause the world it is in is taken over by someone Satan possessed and the main characters are supposed to in response reflect Christianity and fight in a world pretty much directly ruled by Satan like you can see him in the form of a person. It’s hard to explain I’ve been posting section by section as I go on my blog timeislove200.blogspot.com . The blog consists of my writings including a whole section of only sections of the book I have posted by chronological order. Most recantly though I had been working on a multiple post series about what it means to be a man.!
That’s so cool! I love poetry, and your story sounds pretty interesting. Is it really dark?
Also btw. I really think that’s important and great that you’re taking the time to write about what it means to be a man. It’s something the culture gets so wrong so often!
Christian Psychotic Dystopian Fantasy? That’s a mouthful. lol
That was awesome! Btw, they way you write is amazing…
(And your “About the Author”… I think that made my day, haha.)
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about how we need to look to Jesus for true happiness lately… This kinda brought me back to that.
Thanks for the spectacular article!
Great article! I have heard it said that our joy is found solely in Jesus while our happiness can be found in happenings.
This was a really good reminder that sin’s happiness is short, and pathetic compared to the greater better joy that we have in Christ. It is hard, but it’ll be worth it. Thanks for the great article!
“We are called to be so much more than happy” Yes. Just yes. Thanks for this reminder!!!
This is spot on. Thank you, very timely!
Wow. Thank you so much!!! This was so helpful. This is just the encouragement that I needed. Thank you SO much!!!
I agree with some of the things you say. We can’t expect happiness to be immediate or always present in our Christian life. Fighting sin is painful, and happiness is a fight. But I also think that a lot of the reason we don’t feel happy is because of the brokenness of this world and the brokenness of our hearts. True happiness should feel happy, not light, but happy. And I think that when we get to Heaven our happiness isn’t only going to be eternal, it’s going to be so much deeper and actually better (feel better) than anything we’ve ever experienced before.
I think a lot of the reason why a non-Christian can be happier than a Christian is because a non-Christian has dulled their conscience to the point where they can’t see the disgustingness of their sin. We see how gross it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. So we are broken-hearted over our sin.
Anyway, I’m kind of rambling, but I just wanted to say you did a good job but I also think that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel happy and I also don’t think the feeling of happiness isn’t true happiness. Our happiness in sin is fleeting (it’s there and then it’s gone.) Our happiness in God is everlasting. That’s the beautiful difference!
So, good job and keep serving God and pursuing Him and His joy and radical happiness.
Great article! I love that last verse you put up:)
Love this article so much! Thank you thank you Brooke.
So timely and exactly what I needed to read.
Read Romand 15:13 in a new light today and I’m grateful for the new revelation.