Happiness is high on the agenda of most of us. We would like to have a stress free life: financially, relationally, and emotionally, to enable us to enjoy the good things around us. We would like satisfaction in our work and in our homes. We would like our lives to be interesting, colourful, active and engaging. With good health and the minimum of suffering we can get away with. And part of our happiness is linked to the happiness of others, those close to us, as well as those we don’t know personally.
But there is something else that I desire even more than this happiness. It includes happiness as I have described it above, but it is deeper than happiness. Partly I seek something deeper because I know that the pursuit of happiness as I have described it is never fulfilled completely. (Indeed, it might not be entirely desirable for us to have the stress free existence we might dream of!) Jesus too knows that happiness alone is not enough. Much of what Jesus says is in direct contradiction to what we usually think of as a happy life. He says that the happy are those who are poor in spirit, the peacemakers, those who mourn, and those who weep. (Matt 5:1-12) He is suspicious of being well thought of by others (Luke 6:22-26), and seems utterly unconcerned with security and longevity. (Matt 6:19-21; 6:25-33; Mark 8:34-38) If we define happiness in the usual terms then Jesus should have been deeply unhappy to die on the cross. But he did not define happiness exactly as we usually do. And that is why, despite the grief and despair of Jesus on the cross (See Matt 27:45-50), the Gospels portray something else going on within Jesus on the cross. (For example Luke 23:46; John 19:28-30; and Mark 8:31-33) St Paul suggests to his readers that true happiness is to be found in following Jesus, where through our love of God and others (often involving sacrifice and even suffering) the life of Jesus (and the love of God) is made explicit to the world around. (2Corinthians 4:7-12)
Romans 8 (again by
I find so much happiness in my life. It is difficult to admit that what I think constitutes happiness might, according to Jesus, ultimately fail me, and is at times in direct contradiction with what Jesus says is true happiness. I am now firmly in the second half of my life, and I see that the task set before me is to be happy, yes, but to enjoy a gospel happiness. And in striving for the happiness offered by the gospel be willing to give up some of my usual and 'natural' hopes for happiness. This is not easy, and requires the support offered by a community of faith striving to live by the same gospel.