Our whole culture seems to be focused on achieving Happiness. We are constantly being told, whether explicitly or implicitly, that we need this product or that new thing in our lives to be happy. And while most of us likely realize that material things do not offer lasting happiness, we still tend to translate the idol of happiness into our Christian lives.
It’s even tempting to use the promise of happiness as a reason why others should become Christians.
It’s so easy to forget that Jesus never promised His followers happiness. This is what Allison Barron addresses in her article for Boundless.org titled “Debunking the Myth of Happiness.”
Although knowing Jesus and living as a Christian certainly gives purpose to life and provides hope and encouragement and confidence for the future, the here and now can still be filled with trials.
“In fact,” notes Barron, “the Bible says just the opposite; we will face tribulation (John 16:33), walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), and experience temptation (James 1:2). We are warned, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).”
Jesus also tells his followers that if He experienced rejection and trials, so will we (John 15:20). As Christians, we should even expect difficulties because living a life following Christ means living a life that is often in direct contradiction to the way of the world.
Over-emphasizing the happiness that comes with following Christ can actually be disillusioning for Christians when trials hit.
Instead, we are promised trials and difficulties, but we are told that through them, God is refining us, teaching us, and molding us to be more like Him. We are also told that we can “count it all joy” when we face trials and unwanted circumstances (James 1:2).
That verse reminds me of a friend I have whose mother has been in and out of the hospital with various medical problems for the past year or so. She never denies that these medical issues and hospital stays are trials, but she also has uncovered the secret to Christian contentment and joy. Every time she posts about her mother’s condition, she asks for prayer, but she also reaffirms the truth that God is in control and He is good, or she posts an uplifting song, or shares how God has allowed her family to share the Gospel with the hospital staff.
We will all face hard situations in life. Our world is wracked by sin and there’s no way to get around that or to shield ourselves from trials and pain. Even Jesus does not magically take away all our trials, tears, and unhappiness.
But He does provide us with what we need to grow and what we need to increase our faith and draw closer to Him, which is what truly brings real and lasting happiness. Jesus knows that what we are all truly longing for deep down is being in step with the God for whom we were created.
Barron sums it up well: “He doesn’t promise us happiness, but there are more important things in life than feeling good, things God can offer us that no one else can. There will always be suffering here, and though God doesn’t take it away in this life, He can help me find peace through it and learn from it; and sometimes He’s just there for me to yell at when it hurts. His promise to us is more substantial than happiness.”