Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Gospel Happiness

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 St Paul) is a classic expression of this deeper desire. It is a complex piece of writing, but Paul here is saying that our deepest happiness is to be found in being united with Christ in his (Christ’s) relationship with God, that is, to be a child of God just like Jesus. ( Rom 8:14-17; see also John 14:1-10) To know ourselves deeply loved just as Jesus did (Mark 1:11), and in that truth of our existence offer ourselves as agents within God’s great plan of redemption for all of creation. (Rom 12:1-2, (3-8), 9-21; 2Cor 5:16-21)

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.


  1. Interesting... I agree with what you are saying about Gospel Happiness, but having said that I think people need to be happy in themselves and their life not just in God. I don't know, maybe I am just thinking in the normal happiness frame. I know that I strive for the gospel happiness you speak of, but don't you have to have some form of normal happiness in yourself and your surroundings etc to fully comprehend and grasp the gospel happiness you speak of? I look at my friends that are christian and they have this gospel happiness and happiness in their lives. I used to have that. But something has changed... I have the gospel happiness but not the happiness in my life. Am I just meant to be content with this unhappiness in my life and just keep striving for the gospel happiness hoping it will all even out in the end?

  2. Starting with your last question first, possibly. Sorry to say that, although I mean by this that I want to strive for gospel happiness hoping it will all work itself out in the end. Not sure about "Am I just meant to be content with this unhappiness in my life" though. Sounds a bit sus. Maybe it is true, but don't give up on happiness in those areas of your life just yet, just hang loose with them. the Christian tradition thinks we should show a disinterest in such things, by which it means not necessarily a literal disinterest, but a hanging loose because our eyes are set firmly on Jesus and his way.

    I don't think we need to find happiness in the things that Jesus says don't worry about to grasp gospel happiness. I suspect that it is possible to find a deep underlying happiness without any of the usual trappings of happiness.(And we still might feel some unhappiness about those usual things, though.)Having said that, it is also possible to find happiness in some of those usual things. Gospel happiness and 'worldly' happiness don't necessarily have to be competitors. Sometimes they are, but not necessarily. Hang in there, seek the kingdom and wait.