Make your own free website on Tripod.com

The Biblical Means toward Joy

Solomon's Book of Ecclesiastes and the Study of Happiness

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--these are the inalienable rights accorded to people by the writer of the American Declaration of Independence. Happiness is something that mankind has sought after from the earliest days of existence, and the pursuit of it is something that forges a major theme of one of the books of the Bible. That book is Ecclesiastes, a set of philosophical ponderings by a king of ancient Israel named Solomon, a man, the scriptures say, renowned for his wisdom. In the book, Solomon meditates on the meaning of life, the value of the wisdom he's been given, and the means toward happiness. He notes these goals early in the book, when he states:

I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under heaven all the days of their life. (Eccl. 1:17-18, 2:1-3; all quotes are from the King James Version)
All of Solomon's wisdom, he seems to indicate, has brought primarily sorrow, so Solomon sets out to find what good he can do with his life, and in turn he sets out to find happiness. One might then read Solomon's book as a road map toward happiness, as inspired by God. As such, Ecclesiastes offers us a number of techniques toward that end.

First among these techniques, Solomon emphasizes, is to enjoy the fruit of our labor--that is, to enjoy our work and the things that we earn from it. "The sleep of a labouring man," Solomon says, "is sweet, whether he eat little or much" (Eccl. 5:12). Work, Solomon tells us over and over, is a source of the pleasures that we have in this life. "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour," he writes in one passage (Eccl. 2:24). "I know that there is no good in them [everything]," he says in yet another place, "but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the fruit of all his labour, it is the gift of God" (Eccl. 3:12-13). In yet another location, Solomon writes, "[I]t is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God" (Eccl. 5:18-19). And then there is this passage: "I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun" (Eccl. 8:15). This theme is echoed elsewhere in scripture, albeit in a different context, in such passages as this one in Isaiah 65:18: "But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I [God] create." We are, Solomon essentially says, given this life--and all the things of God's creation--to enjoy, so enjoy them.

Along with this joy that we are to take in our work and in the things we gain from that work is a happiness that comes with being prosperous. Collecting physical things, being rich in material possessions, does bring a certain amount of happiness as well, even Solomon admits. After all, given a choice between being financially strapped and wondering where our next meal or rent check will come from versus having a certain amount set apart in the bank so that we need not worry about our immediate needs, most of us would choose the latter. And if presented with the opportunity to be able to take pleasure in a set of nice cooking implements, or a library of books, or a luxury vehicle, most of us would take it and would be happy to have such things. So, too, Solomon went about gathering physical possessions for himself to enjoy:

I made me great work; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. (Eccl. 2:4-10)
In another place in Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us, "A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things" (Eccl. 10:19). So prosperity does have a part in contributing to our personal happiness, which is why Solomon tells us that we should "[i]n the day of prosperity be joyful" (Eccl. 7:14).

Scriptures elsewhere show people taking pleasure in the things that God has given to them. Followers of God's way do this, for example, at God's festivals: "Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God," Deuteronomy 16:15 tells us, "in the place which the Lord shall choose: because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shall surely rejoice." Scriptures repeatedly show the ancient people of Israel taking pleasure from the various physical blessings that God rendered or that God promises to render to them. Take, for instance, this passage in 1 Kings 8:66, where the writer tells us that the people "went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had done for David his servant, and for Israel his people." This passage comes at the time that Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, a work of magnificent architecture and beauty that showed off the riches that had been bestowed on Israel. Isaiah 51:3 talks of a time when Israel will rejoice again because of the physical bounty God will bestow on it: "For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will made her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody."

One of the greatest joys that God places into people's possession is their children. Many verses talk of how children are a delight to those who have them. Notice, for example, Leah's attitude in Genesis 30:13, on the birth of another son?-this one Asher--to her husband Jacob. "Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed," she said. A psalmist proclaims: "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Ps. 127:3-5).

The prospect of children leads us to understand part of what makes being prosperous one of the means by which we can be happy, for the joy in prosperity isn't just in what we collect but in then being able to turn over part of that prosperity to others. In other words, happiness comes from giving. Children may be a great blessing, but they also require a great amount of investment from ourselves--an investment that brings us happiness in the process. The Bible discusses this principle of sharing our wealth in many places. It shows, for example, how an unwillingness to give from the riches we have accrued can lead to misery. "He that is greedy of gain troubles his own house," Proverbs 15:27 says. Rather, Solomon notes, in Ecclesiastes, the more one gives and invests in others, the more one is likely to see a return on such investment: "Give a portion to seven," he writes, "and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. . . . In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good" (Eccl. 11:2, 6).

Indeed, in scriptures elsewhere, God promises to bless those who help those who are in need. "Blessed is he that considereth the poor," David writes; "the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble" (Ps. 41:1). The word blessed here is the same Hebrew word that is often translated as happiness; in fact, many of the Hebrew scriptures that talk of blessings are referencing the same word that in other scriptures is translated as happiness. But to make the point absolutely clear, we have this Proverb, which makes essentially the same point that David did: "He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he" (Prov. 14:21). Similarly, in the New Testament, Christ gave his disciples an example of service by washing their feet on the night before his death. Notice what Christ said about what such acts would bring to the disciples if they continued in them: "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (John 13:14-17; second emphasis added).

Our willingness to give and share from the riches with which God has blessed us relates to yet another thing that Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, says can provoke happiness in our lives: namely, our friendships and relationships with others. For without them, Solomon denotes, life is a lot less full. "There is one alone, and there is not a second," he writes; "yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour" (Eccl. 4:8-9). If a person works merely for him- or herself, says Solomon, then the reward for his or her labor is much less fulfilling than if he or she can share it with another. Solomon's Proverbs extend this point, showing how conversation with friends can make us happy. "A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth," says Proverbs 15:23, "and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!" But not only conversation can raise our spirits, friendly counsel can do so as well. "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart," notes Proverbs 27:9, "so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel." Counsel in turn brings peace to a person, and thus joy, as denoted in the statement from Proverbs 12:20 that "to the counsellors of peace is joy." Ecclesiastes confirms peace as a harbinger of happiness as well, when it states, "Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit" (Eccl. 4:6).

One of the most important sets of relationships comes in the form of one's family. For Solomon, one's wife is integral to one's happiness. "Live joyfully," he says, "with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun . . . for that is thy portion in this life " (Eccl. 9:9). Solomon extends the happiness to be gained from family to include one's children, in his Proverbs: "The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice; and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice" (Prov. 23:24-25).

The New Testament extends this happiness to be gained from family even further, for in Paul's epistles, it is no longer just one's blood relatives that bring joy but one's fellow laborers in the church. Over and over in his letters, Paul talks of the joy that he gains in his interactions with the brethren--and of the joy they gain from their interactions with him and other itinerant preachers. "Therefore we were comforted," he writes in 2 Corinthians 7:13; "yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all." Similarly, in Philemon 7, Paul notes, "[W]e have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother [Philemon]."

But even if we have friends, family, and possessions, happiness, Solomon points out in Ecclesiastes, is influenced by something else even more integral to our own selves: our attitude. "Go thy way," Solomon commands us, "eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart" (Eccl. 9:7). Elsewhere, he writes, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes. . . . [R]emove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh" (Eccl. 11:9-10).

In Proverbs, Solomon not only encourages people to have a positive and joyful attitude but also provides reasons that such an attitude is helpful. "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance," he says in Proverbs 15:13, "but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken." A good feeling inside us is, thus, reflected in the vibe that we give off, just as negative feelings can eat away at us and at those around us. Two verses later, in verse 15, Solomon writes, "All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast." If a person thinks he or she is afflicted, then life will conform to those parameters, just as the person who looks on the bright side will always feel blessed. In Proverbs 17:22, Solomon notes that a "merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." Our health and well-being actually improve when we are happy and when we carry a happy attitude.

The Bible doesn't just stop there, however. It doesn't just tell us to be happy--or to try to think that we're happy. It also provides us with a few techniques toward building that attitude of happiness. One of these techniques is, believe it or not, drinking. Scriptures are clear that overdrinking can lead to significant problems--for example, in making choices or in maintaining sound finances--but they also state things like "wine . . . maketh glad the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15). Read that portion of Psalm 104 in context, and one will see that it is talking about God's creation--God made wine, in part, to provide man with a happy heart. It is, indeed, a medicine, when used appropriately in moderation.

Another item that can help spur a happy attitude is music. Many scriptures pair melody with joyous times. We get music when battles are won: "And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music" (1 Sam. 18:6). We get music at times of ceremonial importance and celebration, such as when the ark was brought to Jerusalem: "And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of music, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy" (1 Chron. 15:16). Or when the temple was dedicated: "And all the people came up after [Solomon], and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them" (1 Kings 1:40).

But these are happy occasions. We also see music used to restore people to peace and happiness when they feel troubled. One of the most obvious examples of this appears in 1 Samuel 16, when Saul calls on David to play the harp for him:

But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let out lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me. Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him. Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep. . . . And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. (1 Sam. 16:14-19, 23)
Just as Saul was refreshed by music, so too does James, in the New Testament, encourage those who are happy to spur others toward that same happiness with song. Note the pairing in James 5:13: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms."

Another means of inculcating a joyful attitude is to ask God to give us one, for God is the source of all things. Galations 5:22 lists joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Since that be the case, a bit of God's spirit can certainly lead to one's refreshing. Note how Ezra 6:21-22 says that God gave his people joy: "And the children of Israel . . . kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful." Here, Israel's attitude had been sculpted by God, through the things that he had done for them.

And that in turn brings us to yet another thing that can help us craft a happy attitude: being thankful. A person who is thankful for and content with what he or she has cannot help but be happy or merry, for the person's attitude is focused not on what is missing but on what is present. Scriptures talk much about this thankful attitude. Deuteronomy 26:11 tells the Israelites, for example, to "rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house." The author of Hebrews 13:5 tells the church, "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have." And to Timothy, Paul wrote:

[G]odliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Tim. 6:6-11)
Indeed, Ecclesiastes brings this out as well, how constantly seeking after more can bring misery, because we can never be completely satisfied by physical abundance. "He that loveth silver," Solomon writes, "shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? . . . [T]he abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep" (Eccl. 5:10-12). We can get so caught up in what we have and in desiring more that we gain no joy from the very things we have been given. No wonder that God made "Thou shalt not covet" (Ex. 20:17) one of his ten great commandments, for that law is really a means to ensure our own happiness.

Beyond having a joyful attitude, however, Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, also points out one more thing that can provide for our happiness, and that is keeping the law, whether it be that of man or that of God. Laws are written to prevent trouble. "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment," Solomon tells his readers. ". . . Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing" (Eccl. 8:2, 5). That the laws set down by men are for our own good is a fact that the Bible also asserts elsewhere. In Romans 13:3-5, Paul tells us: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." Because laws are established by men to ensure that we live for each other's good and because our conscience makes us subject to such laws, we are, Paul goes even further to explain, bound to obey them if we wish to be happy, for living by our conscience is essential to our happiness. "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth," Paul writes, in discussing what we do or do not do out of personal conviction, as established by the conscience (Rom. 14:22).

It is because rulers establish and enforce laws meant for the good of all, Solomon notes in Proverbs, that people are happiest when those rulers are righteous and just, when the rules they set up are fair, as well as the enforcement thereof. "When the righteous are in authority," says Proverbs 29:2, "the people rejoice: but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn." Likewise, Proverbs 11:10 states: "When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting."

If our submission to good--albeit fallible--human leadership brings happiness, how much more then does submission to the leadership and laws of God, whose goodness and righteousness is unsurpassed? Indeed, God's actual reign on earth is typified, in many places, as one of great happiness for exactly this reason. Note, for example, what Psalm 67:4 says: "O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for [God] shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth."

And just as God brings happiness through his right leadership, so too does the law that he has laid down. "[H]e that keepeth the law, happy is he," says Proverbs 29:18. And in the New Testament, Jesus himself repeats this idea when he tells his disciples: "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:9-11). And again, the Psalms reaffirm this idea over and over. "The statutes of the Lord are right," Psalm 19:8 says, for example, "rejoicing the heart." And when one notes that in the Hebrew, the word that is translated into English as "blessed" is often the same word translated in other passages as "happy," the concept that happiness accompanies the law proliferates exponentially. "Blessed [happy] is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly," the Psalms begin, "nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night" (Ps. 1:1-2). "Blessed [happy] are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times," reads Psalm 106:3. "Blessed [happy] is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments," says Psalm 112:1. And in Psalm 119:2, we are told, "Blessed [happy] are they that keep his testimonies."

One of the reasons that happiness accompanies God's law is that his law is a type of wisdom, an understanding of the world that allows one to grasp it with peace and joy. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom," Solomon writes in Proverbs 3:13, "and the man that getteth understanding." Wisdom, the scriptures tell us, is a gift from God, along with the joy that accompanies it, as Solomon notes in Ecclesiastes 2:26: "For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy." This wisdom is brought about by God's correction when we depart from the law, which in turn is another reason to be happy, even in affliction. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord," says Psalm 94:12, "and teachest him out of thy law." Likewise, in Job 5:17, we read, "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth." And in turn, scriptures tell us, we are made happy not only by the wisdom God grants us but by the wisdom of those who lay down the law in a wise way, as the queen of Sheba told Solomon: "[T]hy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom" (1 Kings 10:7-8).

But even if we have all these things--an ability to enjoy our labor and the fruits thereof, a reasonable degree of material riches such that we are not in constant need and can even help others, a family and a set of friends, a positive attitude, and a willingness to obey the law--we are not always guaranteed to be happy. Whether we live righteously or not, there are likely to be times when we will not have all of the things that go into making us happy. We will have jobs we don't enjoy. We'll go through periods of relative poverty. Friends will move away. Family members will die. We'll go through a period of depression. Or a law that is passed turns out to be more of a burden than a help to us. Furthermore, there are people who do wrong, in the eyes of God, and yet still have a degree of happiness. They might disobey God's law. Or they might steal rather than work. Or they might abuse the people around them. Even the Bible acknowledges that such people can have happiness for a time. "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?" Jeremiah asks; "wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?" (Jer. 12:1). "Ye have said, It is vain to serve God," Malachi writes of those who live untoward lives, "and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered" (Mal. 3:14-15). And yet, despite all such problems and injustices, the Bible says that we can still have happiness. But it is a happiness of a different sort.

"I have learned," Paul tells the Philippians, "in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things though Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip. 4:11-13). What is this means by which Paul remains content in all circumstances? How does Christ strengthen him. Solomon, at the end of Ecclesiastes, gives us only a glimpse. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter," he writes. "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl. 12:13-14). Malachi, in the passage referred to earlier, gives us an even clearer one. The wicked may excel now, but, Malachi says, "a book of remembrance was written for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Mal. 3:16-18).

The items Solomon discusses as providing happiness in Ecclesiastes pale in comparison to one other means toward happiness that God provides to those who follow him. The happiness that we've focused on so far, through Ecclesiastes, has largely been one focused on the material present, but the happiness God can provide to us is one that is everlasting and that is not dependent on physical circumstances. This last means toward happiness comes, not through anything physical we receive in this life, but through the salvation God grants through Christ; this knowledge, in turn, provides us with a joy that exists not just in the future but also in the present.

The manner in which we can have this joy is by staying focused on God and on his way and his promises. This is, essentially, what Solomon is alluding to at the end of Ecclesiastes when he tells us that fearing God is the end of the matter. Or to put it more directly, as Proverbs 28:14 says, "Happy is the man that feareth always." A man who always fears God places the concerns of God above any physical blessings that may or may not exist in this life. Paul, in discussing marriage, brings this out when he contrasts concerns for the things of this world one has in marriage versus concerns for the things of God one can have when not having to focus on a mate. Solomon lays out how a marriage can make one happy, but to Paul even greater happiness is available to one who puts primary emphasis on one's relationship with God. "There is difference also between a wife and a virgin," Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. "The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. . . . So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment" (1 Cor. 7:34, 38-40). As Jesus Christ notes in the parable of the rich fool, the things of this world do not ultimately lead to anything:

The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)

In essence then, a focus on the salvation we are offered through God places our happiness in the realm of long-term thinking rather than in the realm of the short-term blessings of this life. This is how Jesus and the early disciples could claim to be happy, even in the most dire of circumstances. It was "for the joy that was set before him" that Jesus "endured the cross," the writer of Hebrews tells us (Heb. 12:2). And likewise, the same writer says, the early Christians "took joyfully the spoiling of [their] goods, knowing . . . that [they had] in heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34).

Hope in God's salvation becomes the major part of the basis for happiness among those who follow God. Christians, Paul notes, "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2). Rather than focusing on the present day, they do as Paul told the Philippians he did: "Holding forth the word of life: that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me" (Philip. 2:16-18). David too rejoiced in the hope offered through God: "I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:8-11). This same passage Peter quotes in reference to Jesus Christ in Acts 2:25-28, who we already saw endured suffering for a joy still to come.

Because Christians have strong faith in a future hope, their joy not only continues during times of persecution and suffering but, in one sense, abounds, for the troubles become merely signs of God's work in them. Thus, if a Christian faces punishment, he or she sees it in the context of self-improvement. "[N]o chastening," Hebrews 12:11 notes, "for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." And the fact that God has taken the time to punish the person shows, the same writer notes, that God loves the person, "[f]or whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth" (Heb. 12:6).

Other troubles are also seen as a sign of God's involvement in the Christian's life--not only improving the person but, more often, actually demonstrating that the person has been called to receive that future reward and thus has reason to be happy. Jesus Christ told his disciples, for example, in Matthew 5:10-12, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Peter, one of those disciples, in turn would tell Christian followers some years later, "But and if you suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled" (1 Pet. 3:14). And later, in that same letter, extending that point, he would note similarly, "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified" (1 Pet. 4:13-14). The very persecution, then, becomes a sign of God living in the Christian and thus a reason for the Christian's happiness. Bound to the hope of immortality in the kingdom of God, worshippers have nothing to fear from the troubles in this life.

Because the Christian's focus is long term, ultimately no one in this world can take away the happiness that a Christian possesses. It becomes, rather, a situation like the one Christ described for his disciples, "[Y]e shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy shall no man taketh from you" (John 16:20-22). Dark times of the present are always in subjection to the happiness that is to come.

Moreover, the Christian is joyous not only because of the promise of future rewards but because he or she places full trust in God. Unlike relatives, friends, or riches--any and all of which can fail--God himself cannot fail, for he holds all strength and all power. And he holds our salvation and, thus, our joy, which, through him, is absolutely assured. This theme of happiness through trust in God runs throughout the various Old Testament prophecies of Israel. "Happy art thou, O Israel," Deuteronomy 33:29 states, in rehearsing the blessings Israel is to receive, "who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!" Note also how Isaiah takes heart in God's salvation: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels" (Isa. 61:10). The future is sure, so Isaiah's happiness is certain as well. "Behold," Isaiah says elsewhere, "God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:2-3).

That said, there are many passages that talk of Israel's punishment by God, but in the end, scriptures make clear that the people in such times should take comfort, for all will be restored. Isaiah says as much when he writes, "Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem" (Isa. 52:9). Even in times of trouble, the absolute trust one can have in God is cause for celebration. Such is Habakkuk's message when he writes, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places" (Hab. 3:17-19). It is as Proverbs 16:20 states, "[W]hoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he."

The Psalms too are full references to the happiness that trust in God brings. "But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice," writes David in Psalm 5:11; "let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee." "The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord," says David in Psalm 21:1, "and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!" "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth," writes David similarly in Psalm 28:7. "And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his salvation," says Psalm 35:9. "Happy is that people, that is in such a case," writes David in Psalm 144:15, "yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord." And likewise, says the author of Psalm 146:5: "Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose help is in the Lord his God." And contrary to the one who seeks happiness in riches alone, the author of Psalm 63 points out that with trust in God as the source of happiness, satisfaction is guaranteed. "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness," reads verses 5-7, "and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice."

Happiness can then, scriptures say, come through many things: our labor and the fruit thereof, our prosperity and the sharing of it, the relationships we have with friends and family, a positive attitude, an obedience to the laws of man and God, and most important, our trust in God as the ultimate source of our strength and our salvation. Solomon may have searched for and provided various answers in his book of Ecclesiastes, but David, his father, may have had an even greater understanding of the joy that comes through God, for the Psalms he wrote encapsulate quite well the means toward happiness that God can provide, as we see in Psalm 128. Each verse of this Psalm, we might say, points toward one or two of the six techniques that Solomon writes of in Ecclesiastes:

Blessed [happy] is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways [trust in God, obedience to law]. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee [labor, riches]. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table [family]. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord [trust in God]. The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life [positive attitude]. Yea, thou shall see thy children's children [family], and peace upon Israel.
Ultimately, a happy person, whose happiness can never be robbed, no matter what the circumstances, is one who has peace because he or she knows that God will supply all his or her needs--all the things that are needed for eternal, lasting happiness--in God's own time.

Back to Main Page