Comedian Rodney Dangerfield seriously said in an interview a few years before his death, “I have never been happy. My whole life has been a downer. Similarly, Katherine Hepburn once said, “I don’t know what one means by happy. I’m happy spasmodically. If I eat chocolate turtle, I’m happy. When the box is empty, I’m unhappy. When I get another box, I’m happy again.” One athlete lamented after winning the Super Bowl for the third time that he woke up the next morning and thought something like, “Is this all there is…?”
I thought about those statements this week after Eric Zeller’s message Sunday on the beatitudes, blessedness, and happiness. [What a helpful and encouraging sermon that was!]
The world pursues happiness in many different forms, but it seems so elusive to many — even for those who appear happy (or appear as though they should be happy). Prominence, position, possessions, wealth, travel and vacations, and famous friends all give the allusion of happiness, but all those inevitably fail.
But the believer can be happy. The believer should be happy. And Eric was correct — don’t make a distinction between “happiness” and “joy” as if they are different things — inward and outward realities that can be disconnected. There might be shades of meaning between the words, but essentially, they are the same thing.
I first heard John Piper use a term something like “the happy language of the Bible.” That is, the Bible uses a variety of words to indicate that the believer should possess happiness. Consider just a few of the words:
With those synonyms, the Bible reminds us that happiness is the norm for the believer. Happiness can be the norm for every believer in every circumstance — even when suffering — because only a believer knows what will truly make him happy. What makes us happy is not chocolate turtles or adulation from others, but fellowship with God who once was our enemy but now has adopted us as His children.
Samuel Rutherford captured this sense in a letter he wrote in 1630: “Think it not hard if you get not your will, nor your delights in this life; God will have you to rejoice in nothing but himself.” Rutherford sounds like the psalmist: “The righteous man will be glad in the Lord, and will take refuge in Him; And all the upright in heart will glory” (Ps. 64:10).
And he sounds like Isaiah — “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God” (Is. 61:10). Both outwardly (with his voice) and inwardly (in his soul) Isaiah is happy in God.
And he sounds like Jeremiah (the weeping prophet): “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (Jer. 17:7).
And he sounds like Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again will I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
And most of all Rutherford sounds like Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:3; see also vv. 4-12).
The believer can be happy both inwardly and outwardly because his happiness is not rooted in His circumstances, but in his Savior. The believer is happy always because he is always possessed by God and always possesses fellowship with God — and nothing can separate him from that love (Jn. 10:29; Rom. 8:35-39). And that means that even when circumstances are grievous, the believer can grieve and at the same time have an underlying and unshakable happiness, contentment, joy, and satisfaction in his fellowship with God (see Eccl. 7:2-4; 1 Thess. 4:13).
Be happy, because if you are in Christ, you have a treasure that can never be taken from you. Whatever else you might lose, you have not lost anything eternal when you are in Christ. So today, in your circumstances and your trials and disappointments, be diligent and intentional to pursue and cultivate joyful happiness in God.