Everything is amazing… and nobody is happy.
November 2011 – The headline above is the schtick of a popular secular comedian who has no qualms about using “gd,” excretory terms and other near-blasphemous expressions in his routines or on his Web site. Consider the irony – a blasphemous, secular comedian recognizing the dilemma of our culture – amazing advances in technology, all the toys we could ever imagine, affluence like never before and yet, people are not happy.
This comedian is not alone in his conclusion. A secular Web site that, like the comedian, has no problem turning God’s name into a curse or making lewd sex jokes, carried an article pertaining to how unhappy people are and tried to give historical and scientific reasons why.
It’s not just comedians who see how unhappy people are. Numerous scientific studies, opinion polls and government reports reveal abysmal numbers of people in depression. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon is not particular to America. A recent report from England’s Department of Health revealed prescriptions for anti-depressant medication have gone up 40% in four years. Why are so many people in America and across the developed world so unhappy when they are surrounded by so many creature comforts?
Searching the surface for happiness
Although it may seem like a trite answer, one reason we are in a seemingly constant state of unhappiness is that we are living human beings. Part of being alive means that we will have emotional highs and lows. Be wary of any book or speaker that says it is possible to feel happy and joyful all the time. While some experience more highs than lows, and others feel more lows than highs, part of the human experience is feeling joy and sorrow, pain and peace.
It is within those experiences and emotions we begin to learn what happiness is. Think about describing the feeling of happiness. It is like trying to describe the color orange to someone who has never been able to see. We use the word and know what people mean when they say it, but can we put an absolute definition on it?
Many, especially in developed countries, equate happiness with the absence of difficulties. This thought originated with karma, the belief that good things happen when you do good things and bad things happen when you do bad things. It is believed happiness comes when you do enough good things that bad things are absent from your life and if bad things do happen, you haven’t done enough good things. It can get quite confusing because that is not at all what the Bible teaches.
The Bible makes it clear in Genesis that we live under the curse of sin. Part of that curse is toiling. God proclaims his curse on Adam in Genesis 3:17. He said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (NASB). Notice that before the fall, Adam worked in the garden and it was pleasing. After the fall, he toiled with thorns and thistles. We are still toiling throughout our lives today because we live in a fallen world.
But being in a fallen world is not the only cause of our problems. There is an enemy who roams this planet seeking whom he may devour. Satan’s primary goal is to see people destroyed, first in this life and then in the life after death. He wants to cause as much pain and turmoil as possible whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual.
In light of the fact that we live under the curse of sin, in a fallen world and with an enemy gunning for us, there are legitimate reasons to feel the full spectrum of human emotion. We all know happiness, sadness, anger, jealousy, joy and contentment. We run into more trouble when we try to act as though we do not have the negative feelings than when we intentionally own them.
While “owning our feelings” may sound like New Age mumbo jumbo, there is scriptural support for the concept. It’s called honesty. We are called to be honest with ourselves, with God and with others, even when it comes to how we feel. David (Psalm 22), Job (Job 21) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20) all got angry with God, asking whether He could see their infirmities or if He was even paying attention at all. God did not strike them dead for being honest with how they felt. In fact, more times than not, He patiently listened and then helped them see things through His perspective. He let them know that He was still in control and, while they were not aware of it, their suffering was but one step toward finding eternal joy.
Digging deeper for joy
So how do we find the eternal joy that so often seems just past the next horizon or on the other side of the big problem facing us? There are several scriptural truths that will not give you the warm fuzzies of happiness, but will help you get out of bed on those mornings when it is so hard to find a reason to.
We must stop equating happiness with the absence of difficulties. Jeremiah was the weeping prophet; Paul was stoned, shipwrecked, snake bitten and cursed; Jesus was called the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). These men knew something very important: even when you lose control, God is still sovereign. They had pain inflicted on them by external forces. But they knew God had a plan and purpose for it.
They also knew that God never promised comfort and constant happiness in this life. Too many people who preach say that God will give riches, glory and honor to His believers. The truth is that Jesus called His disciples to give up everything and follow Him, trusting Him for all they needed.
There are several good reasons for us not to get too comfortable in this life. One is that comfort may lead to complacency and apathy. Another reason is that God wants us to continually yearn for the world that is to come.
Jesus speaks of heaven as a place of surreal peace and joy. Ecclesiastes 3 makes it clear that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. While we can try to fulfill that yearning with things in this world, it will never fully be satisfied. The sad truth is that humans tend to use the blessings of God to replace Him, even something as beautiful as the church itself.
We get wrapped up in His gifts, such as a great job, a wonderful family or a productive church ministry. Then we attempt to fill that eternity void with those things, rather than recognizing that none of them were designed for that purpose. In fact, they were given to accentuate that yearning, to give us a glimpse of what awaits us in the presence of God. Instead of trying to fill that hole, realize it was given as a reminder that we will never find ultimate happiness here on this planet. C.S. Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Once we grasp that God has not promised happiness or comfort in this life and that we have a yearning for eternity that cannot be filled by anything or anyone here, one of the most encouraging truths is to realize your own worth in Christ.
When we realize the great price that was paid for us, we begin to perceive the value God places on our lives. Jesus, being a real man, had real nails driven through His real hands and feet of flesh. He had a real crown of thorns placed upon His real head. He had 40 minus 1 strikes across His real back. Jesus, being a flesh and blood man, paid a real price for you because He places real worth on you.
Too often we romanticize the crucifixion and miss out on how much was truly paid for us. We will never experience the happiness God intends for us until we first see God for who He truly is, then see Jesus and the price He paid, and finally see ourselves in light of those truths.
For the Christian, happiness is not the ultimate goal. Happiness is an emotion that is directly affected by external circumstances. Have you ever had a great day at work, only to get cut off in traffic and have the happiness stolen away by one careless driver?
God never promises happiness, but He guarantees joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of God and is not affected by external circumstances. It is present no matter the depth of grief in our hearts. In the presence of a thousand tears (or a careless driver), joy can still be there because joy is the presence of God, always by your side. You are never alone.
The ultimate truth is that nothing on this earth will bring us the joy we are looking for. Nothing will satisfy that longing for eternity. So today, let us embrace that yearning and pursue the joy we were created to embrace. A joy that begins with the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Q: How does a Christian maintain joy during times of sadness?
A: Pain is natural and we are designed to feel it. That is where our sense of compassion comes from. We have to trust that God will bring us from our place of current pain to a place of healing and from there to a place of joy. Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.”
Ed Vitagliano, pastor and AFA staff member
Q: How does a Christian maintain joy during financial trials?
A: Look to God as your source. When our perspective is that God is our source instead of the person signing our paycheck, we gladly give Him our first fruits.
Buddy Smith, pastor and AFA staff member
Q: How does a Christian maintain joy when faced with a wayward child?
A: Intercede in prayer for your child. Use your child’s rebellion as a stimulant for your prayer life. Remember, God has honored the prayers of thousands of parents by bringing children back to Him.
Bryan Fischer, former pastor and AFA staff member