Month 2:27, Week 4:5 (Chamashee/Teruah), Year:Day 5936:056 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Thursday 17 May 2012
Are You Happy? I
Understanding What True Happiness Is
Has anyone ever suddenly asked you, catching you unawares, the question, "Are you happy?" And have you ever hesitated wondering what on earth you should say for fear of being misunderstood? Or perhaps because you don't know? For the truth is, someone young living in the moment will give a different answer to someone older who had a longish span of life to think on such a question. I admit that such questions always unsettle me and cause me to hesitate because for me the answer to this question is not a simple 'yes' or 'no'.
Continued in Part 2
Happiness in the Bible is associated with the following conditions:
We can all run through lists such as this one (and doubtless you would want to add to it) and check off or tick the items where we are happy and cross those where we are not but when someone askes you, "Are you happy?" they're usually asking you whether you are happy with your life as a whole.
- 1. Having children when you are young, and especially a lot of them (Ps.127:5);
- 2. Eating the food which you have grown yourself (Ps.128:2);
- 3. Being saved by and trusting in the Elohim (God) whose Name is Yahweh (Dt.33:29; Ps.144:15; 146:5; Prov.16:20);
- 4. Getting hochmah (wisdom) (Prov.3:13,18);
- 5. Being merciful to the poor (Prov.14:21);
- 6. Being reverent (Prov.28:14);
- 7. Keeping the mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah (Law) (Prov.29:18);
- 8. Not condemning what you approve, i.e. having a clear conscience (Rom.14:22);
As an Englishman I must admit I find such questions make me feel uneasy because of our national temprement. I was asked the question the other day and I shifted uneasily. But rather than say an outright 'Yes' or 'No' to what is such a complex question for me, I simply left it unanswered. In my younger days I would have felt obligated to answer but not now. Neveretheless, the question is important. So how do you answer it? And when should you answer it, and to whom?
I can answer the eight points above without much difficulty even though I am deeply unhappy with the way that some of my children have gone and how some of them were ripped away from me and how my heart was broken. I am certainly deeply unhappy with the world and as an activist working for family rights, I grieve whenever I hear or read stories about the abuses being afflicted on our children and their parents by demonic government systems. I have been deeply immersed in communism the last year and that has left be almost numb when I think about its cruelty sometimes because it's the same system all around us. It certainly didn't die in the late 1980's and early 1990's - it simply changed uniforms.
Many argue, moreover, that our own happiness is not a proper Christian concern, and that to be occupied with self-happiness in any way is to be self-centred and therefore 'selfish'. I have been thinking a lot about this the last few days and I am honestly unresolved about that particular question. Many would say that we should focus exclusively on duty and obedience, and important though these are, they are not everything. If we examine ourselves honestly, theology aside, we will, I think, soon discover that we are all seeking for happiness because Yahweh actually made us to be happy. It's how we go about seeking for it that is the problem.
As parents, we all want our children to be happy. It's a reflex save for those who have killed off their levim (hearts). And I suspect Yahweh longs for our happiness more than we long for it ourselves, particularly after a heavy dose of suffering whether it be self-inflicted or the work of others.
We need to be careful how we define words here too. In our language, happiness (Heb. asher) is a feeling or expression of simcha (joy). It can be transient or drawn-out. It connects in Hebrew with the word to be 'blessed' also. All kinds of different things can make us happy, blessed or joyful but Yah'shua (Jesus) wishes us to focus His definition of happiness into nine concrete areas which to Him are the most important, because from these all authentic happiness arises:
The happy, blessed and joyful believer is so when these eight states are attained - and they are attained by the eight routes. The truly happy person:
"1. Blessed  are the poor in ruach (spirit), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Elohim (God).
7. Blessed are the shalom (peace)-makers, for they shall be called sons of Elohim (God).
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt.5:3-12, NKJV).
These eight are attained by being poor in spirit (contrite in lev/heart), helping those who suffer by comforting them, being humble and gentle, being passionate about righteousness and justice, showing mercy and forgiveness in grace, having a pure or cleansed lev (heart), bringing shalom (peace) to people's lives by helping them reconcile with Yahweh and with others, and enduring persecution for standing upon a foundation of righteousness. In these things we are actually commanded to "rejoice and be exceedingly glad" because it is in these things that true happiness comes - happiness that lasts for ever, not the kind that evapourates almost as soon as it arrives.
- 1. Is a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, and knows it;
- 2. Is comforted;
- 3. Inherits all there is to be obtained of value from this earth life;
- 4. Is filled or complete inside;
- 5. Obtains mercy;
- 6. Sees or knows Yahweh because of a personal connection to Him;
- 7. Is an authentic Son of Elohim (God); and
- 8. Knows he is an inheritor of a far better world to come.
It follows that we have a carnal tendency to seek for happiness in all the wrong places, don't we? And the type this fleshy-inspired happiness produces just never lasts - it's here today and gone tomorrow.
Happiness, blessedness and joy are therefore all echad (one).
What happiness is not is simply a 'mood' - it is much, much deeper than that and connects more with the idea of 'satisfaction'. True happiness is solid and enduring rather than mere 'bubbliness' or 'evanescent'. For most it's a fizz like that of a can of coke being opened and the pressure released. That's not to say that being bubbly is not good but rather to point out that there is more to being blessed then mere bubbles...for all bubbles eventually pop.
Christian/Messianic notions are therefore seen to go far beyond ordinary human ones and it is this 'transcendant happiness' that words like 'joy' and 'blessedness' try to convey. Once we get away from Yahweh's right view of happiness, we soon discover that there are as many ways of viewing happiness as there are people. Just ask a dozen people what they would do were they given only 24 hours to live and assuming they had settled all their affairs and all that was left to when were some hours to seek only happiness, how would they spend their last day? How would you spend yours?
May I suggest that a person in such a situation cannot possibly enjoy happiness, knowing he has only a few hours to live, if there are unfaced horrors and bleakness within? For all of these will rush to the surface, will they not, at the prospect of dying, and so overwhelm any possibility of seeking any last minute 'happiness'. Any happiness we try to pursure ignoring this darkness forcing itself to the surface will simply be a cover-up. I like these incisive observations of Monica Furlong:
That's why I said there are different ways a young and an older person answers the question, "Are you happy?" The older person has the advantage of experience and is less disposed toward wearing masks when he realises that his end is approaching. So I can now answer the question in the most truthful way I know: "Sometimes yes, sometimes no". I can't truthfully answer 'yes' or 'no' because it's simply too complex.
"But am I happy? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. One of the things which middle age has meant for me (and, I suspect, for many, many people) is the uncovering of a fundamental grief and despair for which the energy and enthusiasm of youth acted most effectively as an anaesthetic or at least a denial. If I could just get the circumstances right...(so ran the belief of youth), then I could start to be happy.
"Maturity, at least for me, seems to lie in the discovery that happiness and circumstances don't have all that much to do with each other; that happiness is more a matter of direction, choice and habit than we suppose, and less dependent upon the accident of circumstances. For me, too, it seems to be allied with giving the fundamental grief and despair space, room and expression, using them as a kind of necessary ballast but not taking so much of them on board that they swamp the vessel" .
One thing you have to understand when asking someone so profound a question as "Are you happy?" is the very fear that arises in those who have been around a while and most of their life has passed by is in facing the fact that maybe we have not done with our lives what we ought to, facing the fact that we have been cowards, facing the fact that we might be failures. Many seek to hide away from these ugly possibilities by keep as busy as possible as if business will make everything right. For many busy-ness is just a way of hiding. It's a way of escaping from deep, unpleasant realities that have been pressed deep into the unconsious. And worse, for believers especially (but not just them) is that truth that many hide their sorrows beneath religion and an artificial cheerfulness, an artificial 'being positive', an artificial sense of 'fun'. That mask has to go too because real happiness does not consist of anything artificial.
One thing you come to realise as you probe the question of happiness is that not all of it is of the bubbly variety. There is also quiet happiness. One of Yahweh's promises to the righteous is:
And obviously, if we didn't need it, Yahweh wouldn't go to all the trouble of giving it, would He?
"I will give shalom (peace) and sheqet (quietness)" (1 Chron.22:9, NKJV).
This happiness is the kind that lies below the surface in a tranquil, ordered and fulfilled life. This kind of happiness comes from a steady routine and ordinary caring - nothing very spectacular. I think I can truthfully say I have enjoyed much of this in waves throughout my life but when this has been struck down it has been the source of much grief. For many of us, having profound disorder suddenly, forcefully and rudely injected into our lives by infidelity, divorce, violence or anything like that can be devastating and take a long time to recover from.
This is one pole of happiness. The other one is without a doubt ecstasy. We need both the quiet and ecstatic kind of happiness because we were made for both. Yahweh is both quiet and ecstatic - we are made in His image. But perhaps we are in different places along the line that joins the two poles. In that case, it is a mistake to expect or force another to be where he or she is not.
Let's spend a little time defining 'ecstatic' lest I be misunderstood. I am not speaking here of mere enthusiasm but of something that involves the whole persona - thoughts, emotions, will, sensuality even - all that is a man. There is no doubt that happiness consists of this too. But can you imagine how exhausting it would be to experience this kind of happiness at all times? Or how dull it would be to experience only the quiet form of happiness at all times? That is why I maintain there is a spectrum between these two and that the most fulfilled person will be moving between these two poles and enjoying all the shades and combinations inbetween.
Perhaps the two poles are the essential difference between being content and being taken out of oneself. And it is never enough to be content, neither is it enough to be in bliss. The two bring balance.
And yet our experience of happiness in this life is at best fragmentary and fleeting. If we seek to build a foundation of happiness on this plane and then seek to complete it by reaching up to Yahweh, we will fail. It is like building a house on sand. The right way is to build a foundation of happiness on Yahweh and then, from this unassailable vantage point, reach down to both bring and enjoy happiness down here.
I have sought to build a foundation of happiness down here and have concluded, based on both my own experience and that of others, that this is a totally unrealistic expectation. People will always disappoint you and you will always disppoint them. But if your foundation is Heaven, then you are drawing on far more than your own feeble and fleeting life resources - you are tapping into the infinite and incarnating it into your living down here to bless both others and yourself. Better still, you'll still have it when you die to enjoy up there.
Thus there can be no final and complete happiness except as Yah'shua (Jesus) expresses in His sixth beatitude:
And until we have seen Yahweh...come to really know Him through being connected to Him...we can never find that abiding hapiness nor experience the entire spectrum that exists between contentment and ecstasy - between shalom (peace) and simcha (joy). Yahweh made us for happiness and our happiness is in Him. This happiness becomes all the more greater when we experience Him in others and thereby connect to them simultaneously too. This is the hight happiness and Yahweh's greatest intent. It is the basis of Yah'shua's (Jesus') High Priestly Echad (Oneness) Prayer of John 17.
"Blessed are the pure in lev (heart), for they shall see Elohim (God)".
As this is such a large and important subject I would like to continue with this tomorrow as I try to answer what is for me an exceedingly difficult question indeed. Selah!
 Many translations used "happy" (e.g. Jerusalem Bible, J.B.Philips) and some use both (Orthodox Jewish Bible). True to form, the Amplified Version uses all the shades of meaning: "Blessed - happy, to be envied and spiritually prosperous [that is, with life-joy and satisfaction in God's favour and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions]..." (Mt.5:3, Amp.V.). Indeed, the Latin for happy is beatitudo from which we name this sermon of Messiah, 'The Beatitudes' - that which makes happy.
 Richard Harries, Prayer and the Pursuit of Happiness (Collins, London: 1985), pp.23-24