What does it mean to truly live in a world full of trouble? This is one of those times where we especially need to see how Scripture speaks to the grit and grind of life.
At least part of it comes back to enjoying God’s good gifts. Scripture encourages enjoyment and pleasure, and those don’t cease in the midst of pain and trouble. In fact, those are the times when the good gifts of God matter most because they remind us of his present love and ongoing goodness to us. Yet in times of trouble, our inclination will often be to either abuse or disregard these gifts from God.
Sometimes we will want to inoculate ourselves to the pain, so we binge bourbon or Ben and Jerry’s. Sometimes we want a cocoon to hide in, so we curl up inside the safety of stories told by Netflix or Hulu. But if we are replacing the giver with the gifts and depending on the gifts to do what only the giver can, then something has gone wrong in our hearts–we’ve moved from appreciation to idolatry..
The other side of this is the inclination to disregard his good gifts. In times of trouble we lose our appetites. We withdraw from friends. We lose motivation at work. We stop laughing. Can a joke or a drink or a job solve our woes? No, but they are a means through which God gives happiness in the midst of trouble. They are like His “Get Well Soon” or “Just Thinking of You” card. So we seek to taste and laugh and love and work, even as we cry and hurt and struggle.
These good gifts are not separate from the good news of Jesus unless we separate them. It is not theology and all that other stuff, unless we remove that other stuff from the realm of Jesus’ victory. In a very real, everyday sense, the good gifts God gives on earth are deeper and richer and better because of Jesus. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to depend on them but rather we are free to enjoy them. Because of Jesus, we don’t need to hoard them but are free to share them. Because of Jesus, we are free to enjoy them but not fear them. And because of Jesus, we can find happiness in them even when life is terrible, because we know the giver and we know life will not always be terrible.
The Bible reframes happiness for us by complexifying it. We tend to think of being happy or sad, but Scripture depicts a sort of happiness in the midst of sadness. In this life we will have trouble, but in this life we will have happiness. And this doesn’t mean being on an emotional yo-yo (even though it will sometimes feel that way), but rather experiencing two things at once, one being the damage caused by sin and the other being the happiness given by God. This happiness, true happiness, is rooted in Jesus because only through his work on the cross do we have assurance that one day, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
Our incomplete, marred, temporary happiness looks ahead to that day. But being incomplete, marred, and temporary doesn’t make it a farce. In Jesus our happiness is deep and real, even as we face the troubles of life.
This is an excerpt from Hoping for Happiness. A biblical framework for living a grounded, hopeful, and genuinely happy life, this book gets far beyond the topic of work and helps us to throw off both the unrealistic expectations that end in disappointment and the guilty sense that Christians are not meant to have fun.