You hear it a lot. “God just wants me to be happy.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to hear it more when someone is trying to justify an action or decision that is either selfish or sinful. For example, a man divorces his wife in a manner that is not in harmony with scripture, and he may point out that he simply never was the man he used to be. He felt his marriage was holding him back, which was making his life stressful. He then follows it up with, “There’s no way God would expect me to stay in that relationship. He wants me to be happy.”
Does God really want everyone to be happy? Let’s narrow that question down some. Does God want Christians (His children) to be happy?
What about the Christian in a foreign country who is being physically persecuted for her faith? What about the parents who are watching their child die with an inoperable disease? What about the elderly man who spends his days taking care of his wife who no longer knows who he is?
Have these people somehow failed God if they do not live a life of bliss and happiness? Are they sinning because they feel sad or helpless? Or has God failed them by putting them in a situation that draines them of the emotion of happiness?
When someone makes the statement “God just wants me to be happy”, that tells me two things:
- Whether meaning to or not, this person has made a very selfish statement.
- This person is confusing the physical emotion of happiness with the spiritual understanding of joy.
Happiness and joy are not the same thing. Happiness is an earthly emotion that can easily be changed by our environment or physical objects. It is seen by an outward expression of elation, but it can be temporary. It is true that happiness is an emotion that God instilled in us, just like he gave us the emotions of sadness and anger. These emotions can flucuate on a daily basis, and sometimes multiple times throughout the day.
Joy…now that is something else entirely. While happiness is an outward expression, joy is inward. It results in peace and contentment, an understanding that something bigger is at play. Unlike happiness, joy cannot be taken away because the breeze changes direction.
I don’t believe the Bible ever teaches that we are to be happy at all times. Even Jesus felt and displayed emotions besides happiness. He felt sadness, and even shed tears, at the death of Lazarus (John 11:33-36). He displayed anger when he drove the moneychangers and animal-sellers from the temple (John 2:13-22). However, to me, the most telling statement that Jesus ever made that showed He did not always feel happiness comes from His time in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal and crucifixion:
“My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death..” (Matthew 26:38)
Yes, that was Jesus talking. That’s about as far from happiness as I can imagine.
Does God want me to be happy? Sure, if the situation is appropriate. Does God expect me to be happy at all times? No. Now, does God expect me to have joy? Absolutely! Joy is even listed as one of the Fruits of the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added)
There are many places we can obtain joy. It can come from our spouse. It can come from our children. It can come from a career. However, these sources of joy can possibly fail us. There is only one source of joy that will never fail: a joy that is rooted in faithful obedience to our Lord and Savior. This will provide a joy that cannot fade. Even through persecutions and suffering (Colossians 1:24, Luke 6:22-23, James 1:2-4), the joy of being a child of God’s will never go away. The joy of being part of His Kingdom (Romans 14:17) will carry you through. The joy of knowing that our Father is stronger than anything Satan or this world can throw at me…that’s real joy.
If you are ever tempted to make the statement “God just wants me to be happy”, please stop and choose your words differently. God does not want happiness. God wants obedience that results in joy. Its a joy that gives me the comfort of knowing that even if I never experience complete happiness in this short life, it cannot take away from the reward that awaits me in eternity.