The Pursuit of Happiness!
By: Gordon Dasher
“God wants me to be happy, right?”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, I’d be a wealthy man by now. And to be sure, it is an appealing thought – that God’s greatest desire for me is for me to be completely fulfilled by the things of this world. You know — the perfect house, the perfect car, and the perfect spouse. Oh, and we shouldn’t leave out perfect health. God wants me to be healthy, right?
I want to believe it! With all my heart, I want it to be true. And if this is the god you seek, you will have no problem finding “preachers” who will tell you exactly what you want to hear. “Just give it all to God, and everything will work out perfectly.”
The good thing about having read the scriptures over and over for the past 50 years, however, is that when I hear pastors preach, I run what they say through my inner “Bible filter.” Knowing a little about what the Bible says, I am forced to ask myself if the pastor is telling me the truth or feeding me a line of bull. So, let me share this biblical warning with you:
I hear the prosperity message coming from the lips of thousands of preachers, and I’m tempted to believe it. As I said, I want it to be true. But I have to ask myself a question: Are my ears itching to hear what I want to hear? Am I desperately searching for validation that God is my personal spiritual concierge? Is he sitting on his mighty throne asking me if there’s anything he can do for me? “How can I make you happy today, my son?”
The problem with this kind of gospel is that I begin to wonder where I went wrong when I’m not happy. Like when it seems the weight of the world comes to rest on my shoulders, and I struggle to take my last breath for fear that it will be my last.
Over the past two years, I’ve experienced a little of this. To be honest with you, I have been unhappy a lot. I think I’ve had good reason to be unhappy. Two years ago, I lost my relatively young wife to the ravages of early onset dementia. Then, in January of this year, my father contracted the coronavirus and died. A month or so later, my mother fell and died from the resulting brain bleed. It was a lot to take all at once, I can tell you that.
So, what does that all say about God and me? If he wanted me to be happy, did he fail me? An even worse thought pops into my head (because I am so drawn to the promise of prosperity): Is God not on my side? Has he abandoned me? Did I fail him so miserably that he just gave up on me and moved on to someone more worthy? Is that why I suffer?
Thankfully, years of reading his message to me (the Bible) led me to much more comforting conclusions. And here’s the message: Could it be that God is using the pain I’ve experienced to pull me away from the things that will always disappoint me and leave me feeling empty? Could it be that he is using my restlessness in an unsure and changing world to draw me closer to him? Did I think Jan or my mom and dad would live forever?
If you doubt it, check out what Paul said in 2 Corinthians chapter one. After he had detailed suffering so great that he felt as if he had received a death sentence, he said these things happened so that “we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
Happiness is good when we find it. But it is fleeting. It will not sustain us. However, when we learn to rely on the God who raises the dead, that’s permanent. A god like that does not abandon us. In fact, he sustains us even when we are miserable. Even when it appears that the odds are never in our favor, he holds us up. Knowing him allows us to say, “I don’t understand what’s going on, and I certainly don’t like it, but I will trust God.” When we are moving toward reliance on the God who raises the dead, we begin to make decisions that are not run through our happiness filter (what will make me happy). Instead, we begin to ask ourselves, “Will this draw me closer to the dead-raising God?”
Maybe you have experienced the loss of loved ones and can’t shake the sorrow. Or perhaps your husband is unfaithful, or your child is in the grasp of sexual or drug addiction. Maybe the Evil One has tempted you with one of his tailor-made lies and you took the bait. Now the guilt and shame are overwhelming you.
When these things happen, how can we be happy? We can’t, can we? Not if happiness means a giddy, giggling, mood. That’s because death and sin were never God’s will for us. These things grieve God; why wouldn’t they grieve us? Death and sin go against our nature – we weren’t created to sin and die. That’s why they are so difficult to process.
So, if happiness (as the world defines it) isn’t God’s plan for us, does he just want us to throw up our hands and surrender to despair? If we really want the answer to that question, all we need to do is look at Jesus. Was he tormented by the sin in the world? I would argue that he was so brokenhearted over sin that he gave himself to save us from it. Was he grief-stricken in anticipation of his crucifixion? The Bible records his last moments in the garden where he pled with God to save him from his impending torture.
If God is the god of happiness, why did he allow Jesus to suffer such a horrible death? Why did he allow him to bear the guilt of all mankind on his shoulders? He allowed him to suffer temporarily for something permanent.
The answer is that Jesus was willing to forgo immediate happiness in favor of the greater joy that was yet to come – our salvation.
So, what does this say to us? It says that our sadness, trouble, persecution, disappointment, and hardship are just as temporary as his suffering was. The bigger goal, the awaiting prize, would be our redemption. That’s what made his suffering worth enduring. I’m able to hang on (sometimes by the skin of my teeth) because I am longing for the day when he makes good on his promise to bring me (in my resurrected body) before the throne of the Godhead and introduce me to heaven. I get to see God in person then. That’s why I live with him now by faith – I’m waiting for the day when I’m with him in person.
And that is what God really wants – it’s what he is doing in us. He is drawing us to himself. He wants us to delight in him because he knows that joy and fulfillment cannot be found anywhere else.
I pray every day that God will give me the desire to desire him even more. I pray to be obsessed with him. I even pray that he will do in my life whatever it takes to pull me closer to him. I’m able to pray that without fear because I know that he is good, and whatever he does in me will be good too.