Embracing God’s Promise of Happiness, Even in Suffering and Loss
Recently I was a guest on Pastor Greg Laurie’s program, A New Beginning, talking about the subject of happiness. Below is an edited transcript (excluding the intro), or you can listen to the podcast. (Greg’s ministry has a great app you can use to listen to the program as well as other content.)
I have a great appreciation for Greg, a good brother and a friend with a real heart for Christ and for people. Greg has a passion for evangelism and is also a student of the Scriptures with a Christ-centered ministry.
In fact, this Sunday, October 25, I’ll be speaking at Harvest Christian Fellowship where Greg pastors, at both their Riverside and Orange County campuses. See more details. (I’m also speaking Saturday, October 24 in Ontario, California at the Assure Pregnancy Clinic banquet. Learn more.)
Greg: Randy’s written a new book. The topic is happiness. I’m reading this book right now. If you think you know about happiness, you’re going to find out there’s a lot you don’t know. I’ve already learned so much from reading it. What does the Bible says about happiness? Does God want us to be happy? Is God happy?
There’s so much more to talk about. Randy, welcome and thank you for being on A New Beginning.
Randy: Thanks, Greg. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I love Harvest and everything you do there.
Greg: Thanks so much, Randy. Let me just dive in with a couple of questions. Why did you write a book on happiness? And if you would, please, define happiness for us. Maybe give us the secular version. And then, more importantly, what does the Bible say?
Randy: I think the subject of happiness is critically important. You see it when you look at Isaiah 52:7, which talks about the gospel and which Paul quotes in Romans: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness.” (Now that’s the ESV, which doesn’t use the word happiness that often, but it uses tons of synonyms. Many translations use the word happiness a lot.)
Happiness is part of the gospel. Luke talks about the good news of great joy that the angels brought to the shepherds (Luke 2:10). The gospel is so much about bringing a deliverance from sin, of course. But the result is not only our holiness but also our personal happiness.
There’s a tendency sometimes—and that’s the reason I wrote the book—to minimize happiness. We focus so much on what people in the world are doing and how people are trying to find happiness in sin. Well, the problem isn’t that they’re trying to be happy. We’re wired to be happy. God made us to be happy.
The problem is we seek happiness in the wrong places—in sin, rather than the right place, in Christ.
Greg: In your book you make an amazing statement. And this will blow some people’s minds. You say that God is happy. Now I think that some perceive God that way. But frankly, I think a lot of others do not perceive Him that way at all. You think of the passage that says, “The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty. He’ll rejoice over you with singing.” And then the priest would say to the people, “The Lord bless you. The Lord keep you. The Lord make his face smile upon you.” I don’t think a lot of people perceive God as smiling or singing. But the Bible gives us a different picture, doesn’t it?
Randy: It really does. And I think part of our problem is that we see the passages about God's holiness, His wrath, His judgment on sin, the fact that He is displeased or unhappy with sin, which are there and are important. However, what we forget is that before the universe existed, and before there was sin, before Satan and the demons fell, before Adam and Eve fell, God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—lived together in complete and utter happiness and harmony. That still continues. That has never stopped.
Then we’re told that ultimately God will take away all sin and wipe away the tears from every eye (Revelation 21:4). And then there will be no more sin or evil. So, in other words, the things which God is displeased with are temporary in nature. Before and after—at the beginning and the end of the story that will never end—there will be nothing to displease God. And His predominant attribute of happiness, which the Puritans talked about a lot, is going to be something that pervades the entire universe.
Greg: Randy, I particularly like the how-to dimension of your book. In your introduction, one of the key paragraphs was this one, if you don’t mind me reading it to you:
“I’d be the last person to write a breezy book on happiness that ignores life’s difficulties and denies the struggles of living in a fallen world. But by God’s grace, as the years have passed, I’ve experienced a more consistent heartfelt gladness and delight in Christ. That—not perpetual and unsustainable ecstasy—is what this book is about. Rest assured, this book is not about pasting on a false smile in the midst of heartache. It’s about discovering a reasonable, attainable, and delightful happiness in Christ that transcends difficult circumstances.”
So what you’re saying in the book is that we can find a higher level of happiness by understanding the biblical principles that you lay out. Isn’t that correct?
Randy: Absolutely. Paul talked about being sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). It’s interesting that he didn’t say “rejoicing, yet always being sorrowful.” He put the emphasis on the rejoicing. And we are commanded, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). And by the way, that word translated rejoice means to be glad, to be happy, to delight in, to find pleasure in. The Hebrew and Greek words that are translated joy are synonyms of happiness. It could just as easily be translated, “Be happy in the Lord; again I say be happy.”
But notice what we’re to be happy in. We’re to be happy in the Lord. Now if we base our happiness upon the circumstances of our life, when hard things come our way, we’ll lose our happiness. We’ll lose our joy.
But sometimes what we say is, “Okay. Happiness is based on circumstances. And we shouldn’t base our lives on circumstances.” That’s a half-truth. We shouldn’t, in the way we normally think of as circumstances. Yet what if we think of circumstances as being the realities of our lives, the reality of my life in Christ? I’m told in Romans 8 that not only did Christ go to the cross and pay for my sins, but we’re more than conquerors through Him who loved us. The God who did all this for us in Christ, how much more will He do for us? Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ—not life, not death—nothing in all creation shall separate us from Christ’s love. That’s the true circumstance of my life.
Greg: So extending that, then, what about the people we know who are locked in some kind of a tough situation of their life, who are in the midst of some real trial and suffering. What can we tell them about happiness?
Randy: I think we tell the person who’s suffering, “You are living in a period of your life where the world is under sin. The world is under the Fall.” These are the realities of life. We’re told in Scripture, “Do not be surprised, friends, at the fiery trial that you are enduring, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
So when we face these difficult life circumstances, we need to realize that God is with us in them. Jesus knows and understands our pain. He experienced more pain than any person has in all history. But we should be defined by the future that God has laid out for us, and the present indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is also a happy Spirit. The indwelling Christ intercedes for us, and the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. In a sense, we front load our present circumstances with the reality of what our eternity will be with Jesus.
Greg: What about Christians in depression? Is that some kind of a barometric reading on their faith? Are faith and depression mutually exclusive?
Randy: No. Charles Spurgeon is an example of someone who’s had a great impact on my life. He battled with depression his whole life. I’ve experienced depression. There are godly people who take medications to deal with their depression. And I think that’s fine. We just need to realize that no, depression is not a sign of being unspiritual. But I do think that when we are depressed, there are things that are true that we can look at in God and in His Word that can bring to us the joy that we’re commanded to experience.
Greg: Let me just ask a real simple question. Someone might be listening right now. We’re talking a lot about happiness. Just, very quickly, for someone who just tuned in, define happiness and tell a person right now that’s listening how to obtain personal happiness in the right way.
Randy: I think the best way to define happiness is to just use its synonyms. And you see that dictionaries do this. If you look up happiness, you’ll see: joy, gladness, merriment, delight, pleasure. These are all overlapping words in English, just as the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible are overlapping words. Their meanings are complementary to each other. So you define happiness by these other things. We all know happiness when we see it and when we experience it.
As far as finding happiness, God is the primary. Happiness begins and ends in God Himself. It’s part of His eternal nature. That’s why it’s such a paradigm shift when believers come to understand that the God who created them is a happy God and therefore approves of our happiness, and invites us to enter into His happiness.
Once we see that, and once we associate the gospel with the good news of happiness which Scripture tell us it is, then we can embrace that happiness and not feel guilty about wanting to be happy. We can take the secondary things in life that aren’t the primary (only God is the Primary), that are beautiful things that God has given us. He’s given us family, friends, and the church, the body of Christ. He’s given us a job to do. He’s given us a beautiful creation. He’s given us animals as pets. All these things we can enjoy. And we should feel good about that. We should worship God and glorify God as we enjoy His pleasures manifested in His creation.
Greg: I love that. And doesn’t Scripture say that He’s given us all things richly to enjoy? If we put God first in our life, all these things are added to us for the joy we want, the happiness we desire. It’s all there in a relationship with God.
If you’ve just tuned in, I’m talking with Randy Alcorn, the author of a brand new book on the subject of happiness. This is a book that every Christian should have in their library. By the way, this is 450 pages—there’s so much material, so much great information. In addition to this large book, Randy also has a new smaller book called God’s Promise of Happiness. In fact, this is a great little companion you would certainly enjoy reading yourself. This would be a great book to give to a friend who’s not a Christian yet. It’s evangelistic in nature.
Commentator: Randy, there’s a growing segment of our audience here on The New Beginning who have suffered loss. These are people who really resonate with Pastor Greg because he suffered the loss of his son. I’m acutely aware of the fact that they’re carrying a heavy load of emotional baggage. Maybe we need to speak to them in a slightly different way about their need, their desire for happiness. What would your book tell them about how to find happiness once again?
Randy: Each of us have had losses in our lives, or will experience losses yet to come. Sometimes it’s the loss of health. Sometimes it’s the loss of employment. Sometimes it’s a scandal, and maybe sin was involved, but oftentimes it’s just the things of life that bring us down. I think the first thing we need to do when we’ve experienced great and traumatic loss, like Greg with his son Christopher, is to realize in those times that God is with us. He says, “Lo, I am with you always. I will never desert you. I will never forsake you” (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).
So don’t deny the reality of your loss. Embrace it. Also, at the same time, affirm what Scripture tells us, which is that this God who rules the universe is a happy God, and He endured the miseries of the cross precisely so that we would not have to pay an eternal price for our sin. He paid that for us on the cross.
Now, in Him, we can find personal comfort. He loves us. He cares for us. He intercedes for us. He promises that all things will work together for our good, ultimately (Romans 8:28). And I think that then we need to give ourselves permission to grieve. You see grieving in Scripture. You saw it in the life of Jesus. You saw it in the life of Paul. None of the affirmations about happiness and joy that we’re making, none of the biblical call to rejoice in the Lord always, and rejoice in all circumstances, denies the reality of pain and grief. God understands it, and in fact, God endured it more than any other person in human history in the person of Christ on the cross.
Greg: That’s great. You know I think, Randy, when you go through a loss like we went through, and others have gone through, you feel so sad that you wonder if you’ll ever be happy again. Then when you’re momentarily happy, you feel bad for feeling good. You struggle with this. I came to realize that you can be sorrowful, as the Scripture says, but rejoicing. You have moments of happiness. And as time passes, you never get over a child’s death or perhaps a spouse’s death or others, but you do get through it, and you realize you can be happy again. You can know this joy of the Lord. So there is hope. There is hope in even the darkest circumstances.
I think if a person were to get ahold of this new book you’ve written on the subject of happiness, it would really help them get a perspective, and get a biblical worldview on this topic, and learn how to experience it in a real way—not the fleeting, temporary happiness that might come from an illicit high or a sinful joy, but a real, lasting, abiding happiness, blessedness, joy, that comes from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Randy: Absolutely. And I think what you said there is so important. Scripture talks about the passing pleasures of sin in Hebrews 11:25. It doesn’t deny that sin can have pleasure for a moment. But it’s different than lasting happiness in Christ, the happiness that’s real and deep and will outlive this life. Think of what it means that after we die, He would say to us, His servants who are redeemed by His grace, not through any works we’ve done, and who served Him well in this world: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into your Master’s happiness.” That’s a happiness that preceded the creation of the world and will endure forever! Such a happiness is delightful and will overflow in the New Heavens and the New Earth, Every day we’ll discover more and new and fresh reasons to be happy in the God that we love, the God who made us, the God who redeemed us in Christ.
Greg: Well, Randy, maybe there’s somebody who is listening right now who is just depressed. Maybe it’s because of something that’s happened. Maybe it’s not anything in particular, but they are just down. And they are hearing us speak about happiness, and it’s almost making them a little more unhappy, because they don’t feel it’s attainable. But we’re saying to them, it is. Maybe you could just say a quick word about how they can know this happiness. Then, perhaps, if you wouldn’t mind, lead us all in a prayer where we can ask the Lord to help us find this happiness He promises us in Scripture.
Randy: Sure. There are many passages in Scripture that affirm the happiness in Christ, and the happiness that comes through meditating on God’s Word and clinging to His promises. God’s promises are true. We can count on them, we can take them to the bank, and that’s what we need to do.
Let’s pray together.
Father, we come to you, realizing that many people in this listening audience are struggling. There are people whose spouses left them. There are people going through a divorce. There are people whose child has leukemia. People who are dying of cancer, or a close friend has betrayed them, or they’ve lost their job. Lord, we lift these people up to you. And we thank you that your Word does not call us to deny the reality of our present sufferings, but it does tell us that these present sufferings aren’t worth being compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.
And Lord, thank you too that you call us to rejoice here and now. You don’t just tell us that one day we’ll be happy, but meanwhile we’ve got to be miserable in our lives here on earth. But instead, in the midst of difficulty, you’ve given us the means in Christ to rejoice, to contemplate His redemptive work and the depths of His love. As Scripture tells us, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.”
God, I pray that you touch every hurting person. And any of those who don’t know Jesus, we pray they would turn to Him, and that you would do a work of grace in their hearts, and draw them to yourself. I ask that they would experience in you the happiness that the world talks about, but ultimately does not experience and cannot offer because it’s only found in You. We lift them up to you, Lord. We pray for your grace in their lives and in ours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.