In 1 Timothy 3:12 we read that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Woah. Maybe God doesn’t want us to be happy, and only cares about us becoming godly or holy, even if it takes us being persecuted? How are we to understand this?
Does God want us to be happy? It sure seems like he would, right?
In this series of posts we’re fact-checking common phrases Christians believe, and in this post there are two phrase: “God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.” VERSUS “God always wants me to be happy.” Which is it? This takes some explaining.
First of all, God is most interested in our character, in our heart. And sometimes going through trials is the way to get to our heart. But as we have seen in previous posts in this series, the trials we go through are not necessarily from God. The world is broken and fallen, and we will have troubles in this world. God can redeem those struggles, though, as we strive to follow him in middle of our troubles. And he promises that he will be with us always. The result is that we do often grow in godliness during difficult times.
But can we grow in holiness through joy and plenty and comfort? Yes. That’s why a life of spiritual practices and habits is so important. God calls us to pursue practices like prayer, biblical meditation, silent listening, generosity, and disciple-making all the time, not matter if life is going great or if it is really difficult.
So the phrase “God isn’t interested in making you happy” is wrong. God DOES want us to be happy!
Remember the festivals in Deuteronomy? God embedded happiness and celebration in the life of the nation of Israel. Ecclesiastes talks about enjoying life. Philippians says “Rejoice in the Lord always!” And James 1:2-4, says “Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds.”
It is very hard to feel joy in the middle of the pain.
Is there a difference between happiness and joy? Can we be joyful while being unhappy?
Happiness is fleeting. Joy is a choice. It can be hard to distinguish the two. Especially for those who struggle with anxiety. “Consider it joy?” This means that you can use your mind to control your emotions. Happiness is an emotion, and emotions do not always tell you the truth.
So we need to remember verses like Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”
The song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns speaks to this when it envisions God saying to us, “if your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still, but if your eyes on the cross, you’ll know I always have and always will.”
Isn’t that so similar to the lamenters in Psalms? In the pain they turned and ran to the Lord rather than running away from him. And when they ran to him, they brought all their pain and doubt and anger to him.
And that is a great lead-in to the next phrase we’re fact-checking:God is not OK with doubt and anger.
We’ve referred to James 1 already. Take a look at verse 6. “When he asks he must believe and not doubt”? Wait, is doubt wrong? And later in verse 19, “be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.” So doubt and anger are wrong? Or are they?
Read the psalms, the laments. In them you’ll find gut-wrenching doubt and anger. Raw pain.
That means we can also declare that this is a false idea. God is absolutely okay with doubt and anger.
Saying that God is not okay with doubt is potentially dangerous, making it seem like a good Christian should never struggle with doubt. There is a sense in which God doesn’t want us to doubt. He wants us to trust in him. We should have faith in him. But even then, we have to remember the promise of 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself.”
In Mark 9:17, we read a fascinating story that relates to doubt. The disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy, but to no avail. The father of the boy brought him to Jesus to help.
Notice the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” We all doubt, and we all get angry. Remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God. But God’s gracious love for us should also not be an excuse to just stay in our doubt or anger. Instead, God’s grace should motivate us, make us grateful, to trust in him and allow our anger to subside. If you have an anger problem that keeps popping up, and you can’t control it, I urge you to get professional help. It’s not okay to be angry and damage people.