The Right to Happiness?

I was recently listening to a podcast discussing happiness. Essentially, Pascal Bruckner, the interviewee, says that around the time of the Enlightenment there was a movement to approach happiness as a right that people have. Indeed, we can see this in the Declaration of Independence, claiming that an inalienable right of the people is the pursuit of happiness. What Bruckner then claims is that in the last two centuries this has shifted to being a duty – there is an obligation to be happy.

Mission24: FORBIDDEN

While Bruckner sees this most recent development as problematic, as Christians, even approaching happiness as a right raises a number of issues.

Bruckner points out that prior to the Enlightenment, Christianity saw happiness as secondary; the primary concern was salvation. Obviously such a position requires nuance, but a heavenly focus certainly is more true to Christianity.

Yet so many of us are caught up in this “obligation to be happy.” It’s not limited to a “health and wealth” gospel, either. I suspect many of us (myself included, as always!) structure our days more around self-fulfillment than around service to the Kingdom or worship of the King.

Even the way we explain the gospel often reflects this orientation. In attempting to make it “relevant” or “seeker-friendly” we make the gospel about a God who loves you, who really wants a relationship with you, and so sent his Son for you.

Granted, all of these statements are true, but sometimes the way that we phrase truth reflects our own biases. All of that language centers around the self, and really about bringing some sense of fulfillment, value, or happiness to that self.

I suggest we need to think about the gospel more in terms of God’s character, which demands our worship. The gospel is not all about our happiness. In fact, we can believe and follow Christ right into the greatest pain of our lives – just ask the martyrs. Happiness is not a right we can claim before a holy God.

Believing the gospel is not to immediately reflect on our own salvation but rather upon his goodness, upon his greatness, and upon his great worth.

God’s work is not solely for our sake. Psalm 106:8 makes this quite clear, pointing out that Yahweh saved Israel, not just because he loved them or because they were awesome. Rather, “he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.”

May we remember this week that God saves out of his goodness, but not so that we might be happier. He saves us that we might magnify his name, and bring him glory.

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4 thoughts on “The Right to Happiness?

  1. Very provocative, as usual, Matt. I resonate with it. But I also ask, “In what sense is God’s glory our ‘good news’?” Is there some kind of reasonable ‘mutuality’ in salvation?

    1. Absolutely I think there’s mutuality. But the mutuality doesn’t mean our focus should equally be on ourselves and on Christ. God’s glory in Christ is repeatedly for our sakes (mutually beneficial, perhaps you could say), but it remains his glory, and not our happiness that is the ultimate object.

  2. I agree with this post but I would add that being in the center of God’s will generally brings contentedness and peace and those are 2 major factors to happiness. You’re right, following God doesn’t guarantee happiness but our loving Father knows how to make us happy better than anyone else and when we’re in true relationship with Him, brining Him glory brings us joy, no matter what our circumstances.

    1. Absolutely. I think you’re quite right. My concern is not that we all become morose people, but rather that our happiness does not become our starting point in worship.

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