Friday, November 13, 2015

Is Happiness a Vain and Worldly Thing or a Christian Thing?

Randy Alcorn has written the essay I have been waiting for someone to write. This is an important thing to get clear. We see so many people wrecking their lives and their souls by pursuing "happiness" in all the wrong places that we can become skeptical and critical of the idea of happiness itself.

Some Christians have dismissed happiness as a worldly and self-centered idea that is different from Christian joy and satisfaction. They try to explain Christian joy as something different and spiritual, and they treat happiness as a self-indulgent desire. This is very confusing to our hearts, especially to those who struggle for joy, because it makes us feel criticized for some of our legitimate efforts to be happy. And yet we cannot get away from them. As Christian philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal famously said: "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end." (Pensées, #425).

This has been one of my first priorities in writing a blog, and I've tackled the search for joy a number of times from the very early posts to If You Struggle With Joy You're Not Alone and a string of posts here from 2013 on C.S. Lewis (including Don't Let Being Unhappy Make You Feel Guilty).

But for the present, I just encourage you to read Randy Alcorn's post. Here's a preview:

An ungrounded, dangerous separation of joy from happiness has infiltrated the Christian community. The following is typical of the artificial distinctions made by modern Christians:
Joy is something entirely different from happiness. Joy, in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. . . . There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion and temporary; joy is an attitude of the heart.
Judging from such articles (and there are hundreds more out there), you’d think the distinction between joy and happiness is biblical. It’s not.
John Piper writes, “If you have nice little categories for ‘joy is what Christians have’ and ‘happiness is what the world has,’ you can scrap those when you go to the Bible, because the Bible is indiscriminate in its uses of the language of happiness and joy and contentment and satisfaction.”
Here’s a sampling of the more than one hundred Bible verses in various translations that use joy and happiness together:
  • For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. (Esther 8:16, NIV)
  • I will turn their mourning into joy. . . and bring happiness out of grief. (Jeremiah 31:13, HCSB)
  • Give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy. (Proverbs 23:25, NLT)

The relationship between joy and happiness in these passages refutes two common claims: (1) that the Bible doesn’t talk about happiness, and (2) that joy and happiness have contrasting meanings. In fact, the Bible overflows with accounts of God’s people being happy in him.

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