Perhaps I’m just being greedy. But there’s something about this statement that doesn’t sit well with me. Why can’t we have both?
There’s no question that happiness and holiness are not always the same thing. And there are two lies behind such an assertion, lies which the church is right to correct. The first lie is this – that if we just trust Jesus enough, He will automatically bless us with physical and material health and wealth. That’s nonsense. Jesus Himself reminds us of the cost of following Him and of our enmity with the world and its values. Being a Christian doesn’t shield us from sickness or pain or loss and it doesn’t improve your skin tone either.
It’s also a response to the idea that faith is based purely on feelings. That God loves me only when I Feel like He does. If, like me, you’re prone to ups and downs then this is a recipe for disaster. I need the promises of Scripture or the encouragements of friends to remind me that just because I feel rubbish, doesn’t mean that I am.
So these are the truths. But perhaps in trying to correct this perception, we’ve gone too far the other way. Faith is nothing less than propositional truths, but we are whole people – hearts and heads, will and emotions. Happiness and holiness are not opposites. And if they are, then this says a lot about the Lord we worship.
What do I mean by happiness? Well, of course it’s deeper than a surface level contentment, or pleasant circumstances. It’s at least the kind of deep joy that can sometimes also be painful. But it is joy, now, and in this life. It’s experiencing and delighting in God’s goodness. And not only a ‘wellithurtsnowbutitsimproving mymoralfibre’ goodness. A proper, blimey, it’s good to be alive joy that delights in a God who wants our happiness as well as our holiness. Who desires good things for us and wants to bless us and give us good gifts, because He delights in us and maybe even loves us.
Perhaps it’s just me. But sometimes, when life is going well, I can’t help thinking that I might be doing something wrong. Maybe this is some kind of twisted Protestant work ethic, but my natural instinct is that godliness is allied to pain. If I’m happy, then I must be out of step with the Lord. Relying on “the world”. After all, the Christian life is about suffering, right? And it’s not that the Lord is a harsh master, but … well, it’s probably not good for me to get complacent. Not to use up all the week’s blessings when it’s only Monday. Sure, I’m saved by grace, but a bit of misery has got to earn me extra brownie points. Blessings are scarier than curses – at least if I expect the worst I won’t be disappointed. And crucially, I’ll stay in control of my own destiny.
Life is not a simple case of ‘suffering now, glory later’. We can know the joy of relationship with Christ, not just in the life to come, but in this one too. To settle for anything less is to settle for a smaller God. And that’s the real lie.