Written by Josh Davies
To many, this notion is upsetting and appalling. Many in our culture immediately stir up a counter argument against this idea by contending that God created us in His image, emphasizing that emotions are an important part of our overall being, which must mean that they are important to our Creator. Although this is very true, the argument doesn’t logically conclude that God is ultimately concerned with our happiness.
God created us as eternal spiritual beings with a temporary vessel of a human body. Emotions, including happiness, are the results of a chemical reaction inside of our brains. I reflect on the times that I’ve caught myself being happy when wronging another or committing some type of sin. Did God want me to be happy in that moment? Is God pleased when we are happily vengeful? And what do we do when that chemical reaction fades away and our emotional state flows to the next one like the changing of a season? If we can be equally happy when we are both sinning and pleasing God, then shouldn’t we be concerned with the notion of happiness when examining it as a stand-alone concept?
No, God isn’t ultimately concerned with our happiness or any other emotional state that we may temporarily find ourselves experiencing. Instead, He is concerned with our being (our identity). He’s concerned with who we are, not how we feel.
Unlike happiness or other emotions, joy is a state of being. Joy is the result of the Spirit’s work in us and is a gift from God. God desires for His children to be continually joyful, despite the situation, emotional state, or physical condition in which they find themselves. The Bible teaches that joy can be found even in the midst of terrible trials of life, regardless of our emotional state (see James 1:2-4). And unlike happiness, which is a fleeting feeling that could be the result of righteous or terrible decisions and pleasant or horrible situations alike, joy is available at all times to His children.
To be clear, God does desire us to go through this life and experience pleasure from His goodness and be in awe from His creation.
God does want us to experience the beauty and peacefulness that comes with a hike into the Blue Ridge mountains with the crisp air and burnt-orange leaves of fall.
He does want us to experience the gentle and soothing tide of the ocean at the Outer Banks, with a steady breeze flowing through our messy hair while conversing with loved ones.
He does want us to be positively stimulated to tears in silence by the paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso and find ourselves unable to distinguish between an imaginary world and reality when reading the works of Lewis or Tolkien.
He does want us to be mesmerized and emotionally connected with the articulate lyrics and soothing voice of Sinatra.
But he doesn’t want us to positively experience life merely for bliss – He desires it to point to something deeper. He wants us to “taste and see” all that He has created, and thus all that we create that is “good”, are to point us back to the Great Creator so that we may reflect on His goodness.
Sometimes, perhaps often, the emotion of happiness may come with a lifestyle of joy, but it is not a requirement. Suffering, pain, loss, betrayal, etc. can and will come with a life of joy as well.
God desires us to live in His joy as we excitedly exchange vows with the one we love and in the midst of loneliness after a heartbreaking divorce.
He desires us to live in His joy while we experience the miracle of a child being born and in the midst of a tragic loss of a family member.
He desires us to live in His joy when we are blessed with a stable job and financial security and while we are wondering how we will feed our families for the next month.
He desires us to live in His joy when life seems peaceful and easy and when we are required to make hard decisions to glorify Him despite it not giving us a positive emotional experience in the moment.
God desires us to be full of His joy at all times as His children, for this will be a testament to ourselves and others that we actually believe that He is the Great Architect and Artist, always redeeming and making things right within His love, despite what things may feel or seem like in the moment.
And the great thing is that God doesn’t just desire for us to be joyful in all seasons, but makes it readily available as a gift from His Spirit for those who seek and accept it.
The most beautiful picture of joy in the midst of tragedy can be found in the life and death of Jesus, as the author of Hebrews writes, “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, 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” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus’ life of joy was consistent throughout his entire life, despite his humanly emotions, due to the faith that He had in His Father’s ultimate plan, even while experiencing being deserted by His loved ones and enduring His agonizing death on the cross.
As we learn to distinguish a life dictated by the emotion of happiness and choosing to live a life of His joy, may we allow Paul’s prayer to the people of Rome take root in our hearts in all seasons and situations in our lives, despite what temporary emotion may be in our minds and hearts:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).