Happiness And Holiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So says a portion of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 7776. Sadly, those lines too often have become twisted and confused.

Twisted because the right to pursue happiness is understood by many to be the right to demand happiness. It is my right, therefore, to have whatever I believe I need to make me happy.

Confused because God has been evoked. The assumption clearly is that God wants us to be happy.

I had a dear friend look me in the eye once and tell me she would not obey Scripture because she believed God wanted her to be happy, and doing what the Bible said, would make her unhappy.

I’m pretty sure she’s not alone.

Does God want His people to be happy? There are lots of things that He promised and gave that are recorded in Scripture, and certainly those things would seem to have made the recipients happy. The woman whose dead son Elisha brought back to life was undoubtedly happy. When David didn’t kill all the people in Nabal’s household, I imagine Abigail was quite happy. When Peter and John cured the lame man, his leaping about and praising God makes me think he was pretty happy.

In addition, God promised Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his descendants. He promised Solomon He would give him wisdom and riches and long life. He promised Gideon that he would give him victory in battle.

God’s generosity and faithfulness do generate happiness. But the truth is, by focusing on happiness, we are settling.

It’s a little like the psych test I just read about. Apparently one study had the examiner bring in kindergartners one at a time, show them a trick-or-treat-size candy bar and tell them they could have it, but if they waited until the examiner came back, then they could have a large size candy bar. Seventy-five percent of the kids opted for the one bite they could have right then and there.

You might be wondering if this is where I’ll bring in holiness — if we’re only willing to live holy lives instead of worrying about happiness, then some day in heaven we’ll have the whole enchilada.

No, actually that’s not it. Holiness is the whole enchilada. Holiness is a result of right relationship with God — not something we can achieve on our own.

By being in right relationship with God, the things of God become the things we desire. It’s the truth of Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If I delight in the Lord, many people think, then God has to give me what I want. What those thinking along those lines don’t realize is that true delighting in the Lord realigns our desires.

No longer did Paul want to successfully hunt down Christians and throw them in jail. What had once given him satisfaction and a sense of success was something he abhorred after his desires were realigned.

Did God keep His promise and give Paul the desires of his heart? Absolutely — the new desires of his heart.

Holiness, I suggest, will become our new desire as we align our hearts with God, as we learn to delight in Him.

I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do if we’re caught up in the pursuit of happiness, however, and probably impossible if we’re caught up in the demand for happiness.

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. Rebecca, I just want to first take a second to give my appreciation for your thought provoking thoughts that help to realign my heart to the truth of God’s word. Day after day you test ideas against the only truth source, and show where it is true and where it is not. Thanks.

    Everyone wants to be happy. We all pursue it for ourselves with everything we have. The problem is that we look for it everywhere but in the only place where it can be found. True joy can only be found in God. Psalm 16 tells us that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy. Everything else is just a cheap substitute, and never fully satisfies.


  2. Or, as the Westminster Confession (or is it the Catechism? I don’t know either of them well enough …) puts it, “the chief end of man … is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God—which, when looked at that way, is identical to living a holy life—is the primary purpose for which we were made; in the end, there is o other way to be satisfied. Getting there may be painful, as Eustace’s undragoning illustrates (and I like the term Lewis uses in the Space Trilogy: we are “bent” people, so we need to be “un-bent”), but the end result (towards which we could look, were we not to be focused on its Giver) is “joy unspeakable.”


  3. Ric, that’s for your comment. I appreciate your support and encouragement. Your response is so true — we do, unless God opens the eyes of our heart, pursue happiness in all the wrong places. This is what breaks my heart for those who haven’t found Christ.

    Jonathan, I love those two analogies you referenced — the undragoning and the unbending. Yes, the process is painful, but the result is what our hearts long for. Thanks for adding those images to the discussion. Excellent.



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