I remember reading an article once on the now scandalous pop artist Miley Cyrus. After being pressed by a reporter on a recent breakup she responded, “God wants my life to be about being successful and being happy and blessing other people and being blessed.” This answer startled me to say the least. Given, referencing the Almighty as a means of justification for a sinful lifestyle is by no means in conflict with what many believe today; rather, what surprised me was that she believed that God’s first priority was the promotion of her happiness. My immediate response was to condemn this spirit by saying things like, “God isn’t concerned with your happiness, but your holiness.” I believed (as I still do) that our holiness is preeminent in God’s mind and that exalting happiness at the expense of sanctification was, not only incorrect, but damning. I weary of individuals who call evil good and who use God as a means to justify their wickedness (Isa. 5:20). Yet, I am just beginning to realize that Cyrus’ response wasn’t as far off the mark as I originally thought.
I wrongly assumed that holiness and happiness were mutually exclusive and that God was more concerned about one than he was the other. In reality this false dichotomy is found nowhere in scripture; in fact, God is just concerned about our happiness as He is our holiness. Throughout scripture we see God calling for his people to pursue joy in Him (Psalm 4:7; 16:11; 27:6; 84:2; Phil. 4:1, 4). The problem is that we have wrongfully assumed that holiness necessarily renounces happiness when, in fact, it is holiness which allows us to experience genuine, substantive joy.
Consider the word holiness for a moment. Holiness simply means to be “set aside for the purpose of God; to be sanctified.” God’s people are set aside and purified for His purposes. In that, we continue to pursue purity and “set apartedness” from the world and sin. Interestingly enough, the message of scripture is that we were made for this very thing: to be set apart for the glory and purposes of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Isa. 43:7). After exhausting every possible avenue of happiness Solomon’s conclusion was that our ultimate duty as humans is to “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). Notice, this is the culminating pronouncement of a lifetime search for happiness, contentment, and purpose and the final answer is obedience (i.e. holiness). Solomon isn’t saying that our goal in life is to be unhappy but holy; rather, he is stating that the only way we can truly be happy is through holiness. We were made for an eternal relationship with the transcendent God of the universe. It is only when we discover that relationship that we experience genuine happiness; and the only way we access that fellowship is through holiness (1 Pet. 1:16).
In fact, the Bible begins by presenting a God who is happy about making us happy. If you are reading the creation account for the first time you might wonder for whom all these good things are for (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18). It isn’t until you arrive at the crowning moment of the story, the creation of man, that you suddenly realize how invested God is in our happiness. It should be of no surprise that this happiness and enjoyment of these good things is directly connected to the holiness and obedience of humanity (Gen. 2:16-17). Of course, as we often do, our forefathers chose the bitter root of sin in the midst of God’s bounties. I genuinely believe that the anger, disappointment, and hurt that God experiences in the garden arises from the heart of a Father who wants the best possible happiness for His children.
See, God really is concerned about our happiness. In fact, He is more invested in our happiness than we are: He sacrificed everything at Calvary to grant access to true holiness and happiness. We must stop assuming that we can have one without the other. Whenever someone says to me, “But God wants me to be happy!” I hope to respond, “You’re absolutely right—and that’s why He wants you to be holy.”