I’ve probably heard the catchy “Happy” tune a thousand times if I’ve heard it once. Only this last time, as I searched the airwaves for a decent tune on my short drive to work last week, the lyrics jumped to my attention. This one in particular:
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
My knee-jerk reaction to this proclamation was a decisive scoff. Us Christian curmudgeons don’t believe in happiness. Faithfulness to God is our calling. Happiness is not to be pursued, lest we fall out of the way at Vanity Fair and never return to the pilgrim’s path. I’ve been known on occasion, whenever people dare to call themselves Christian AND happy, to pour rain on their parade with a pithy platitude about how we are called to faithfulness, not fulfillment.
Upon deeper reflection I somehow begin to think this song is on to something – at least with this particular thought. Happiness may indeed be the truth. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still hold to the general principle about faithfulness being greater than fulfillment; Christians are to long for fidelity to God and His word above all earthly desires, but the statement sets up a false dichotomy. Faithfulness to our covenant God and His promises bring about fulfillment beyond human understanding. Fidelity and happiness are compatible concepts.
So, what is happiness? How is that word defined? Happiness is not a giddy surge of emotion when we get something we want, achieve a goal we’ve set or surround ourselves with the company of people we love. No, happiness is a state of being. It is finding fulfillment, peace and joy that transcends circumstance. A truly content person could lose all their possessions in a fiery blaze yet not fall into misery. This reality could only come about if their happiness was not based upon the very possessions that perished. However, that’s the catch to true and lasting joy in this world. Only an eternal and unmovable object of our affections can produce a true and lasting happiness.
CS Lewis once wrote,
Nearly all we call human history… [is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God to make us happy.
This quote rings loudly with hard-hitting truth. We know this is undeniable. Our idea of happiness, if ever achieved is transient and fleeting. We live in a world of inescapable human depravity. That fragile soap bubble full of rainbow bliss we work so hard to encase ourselves in is too easily burst by the malicious action of others; we are too easily seduced by worthless baubles, meaningless prestige, and relentless power struggles. The moment these things are threatened, taken away or made unattainable the illusion is shattered.
Yet, I think Pharrell’s words ring true. Happiness is the truth. Or perhaps, more to the point, it is a simple statement that reflects an eternal truth. Scripture teaches that God’s word is truth. It reveals a loving Creator who gave us His Son, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). If we love Him for who he is and what He’s done, only then can we embrace true happiness. Happiness is the goal of human existence. God created us to be happy only in and through Him. The famous question and answer from the Westminster Confession of Faith succinctly explains this.
What is the chief end of man?
To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
I’ve always concentrated on the ‘glorify God’ part until recently. The sorrows of this past year have painfully revealed to me the fleeting joy of this present evil world. We cannot sustain happiness in a realm where sin, evil and death reign supreme. The theology of pastor John Piper, as expressed in his well-known book, Desiring God, comes to mind with new clarity. Piper calls himself a Christian Hedonist. A hedonist is a person who’s sole existence is the pursuit of pleasure. Piper attempts to redeem the word by setting it in a Christian context. His theology is centered around this statement:
God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
In this way we see how glorifying God and enjoying him forever are tied together in the Westminster question. You honestly cannot have one without the other. Our satisfaction, fulfillment and ultimate happiness can only be found in the immutable God of our salvation. If He never changes then we can never become unsatisfied in Him. Our happiness, once we come into blessed union with the Father through Christ’s shed blood, will never come undone.
The heavenly state has always been described in nebulous terms throughout church history. God hasn’t seen fit to be overly descriptive of our eternal dwelling place. However, it is often referred to as the state of bliss. It is so called for the simple reason that the people of God will enjoy God’s presence, fellowship and love for age upon age forever and ever. The law of diminishing returns will not exist in a world where sin is no longer allowed to erode every good and holy pleasure. God will be the source of our joy and that will never diminish; it will only increase as we grow in our relationship over the eons.
In Psalm 16 David, the prototype Christian Hedonist, eloquently describes the blessed state of all God’s people:
I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
So, is happiness the truth?
In condensed form, yes.
Happiness in God is the truth.
The definition of happiness has no meaning apart from God as its source. It’s the only truth about happiness. It can’t be found, felt and lived out any other way.