“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be happy!”
Happy. That’s a word many of us will nonchalantly throw around in our conversations without a second thought.
“Do what makes you happy.”
“I’m so happy to finally get that A!”
“Happy to help.”
At first glance, the word may bring to mind bright colours and yellow smiley faces, but then, we’ll soon start thinking about the ‘things’ that we consider to make us happy. This may be friends, family, or hobbies – it’s a long list. But while we can easily come up with a long list of all the things that make us happy, something that we don’t often consider is: what makes God happy?
Can God smile?
The question, as random as it seems, came to mind after reading a daily devotional on Desiring God; a website that has countless engaging resources to help Christians grow. On one hand, it’s obvious that God does not have an earthly body like ours, thus unlikely to smile similarly either. On the other hand, we were made in God’s image, including our ability to experience happiness. Multiple examples in the Bible show us that God indeed feels joy. Now, what is it that makes Him happy?
Let’s look at Jeremiah 32:41. It reads: “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” God isn’t unwilling to bless us – rather, He can’t wait! It is this that fills him with joy; to bless us in His love, mercy and kindness so that we may find our true joy in Him.
We can also see this in Psalm 18. A psalm composed by David, one of the most famous kings of Israel, depicts a scene of his helplessness and distress during a low period of his life. But when we reach the nineteenth verse, we read, “He rescued me because he delighted in me.” David did not do anything to deserve and receive this incomparable honour. In fact, there was nothing he could do. God chose (and chooses) to take delight in us out of His own grace and volition – not because we are morally or capably ‘better’ than others.
Matthew Henry, most known for his extensive commentary of the entire Bible, puts it this way. “”He delivered me because he delighted in me, not for my merit, but for his own grace and good-will.” Out of his own will, He chooses to bind His heart with ours. When we cry, His tears fall with ours. When we experience true fulfilling happiness in Him, His heart is filled with happiness as well. In fact, this is what true happiness is for us – to enjoy a thriving and real relationship with Him.
Sounds like happily ever after.
So what went wrong?
The Flip Side
There’s a saying that when there is light, there is also a shadow. If we apply this to our current discussion, then it leaves us wondering what total unhappiness is. In other words, what leads to utter and complete despair? And who has experienced this?
As we’ve established that fulfilling happiness is found in a thriving relationship with God, our Creator and Father, the opposite should be self-explanatory – total despair is the full absence of God. Even in our sinful world today, God still blesses Christians and non-Christians alike with His common grace – such as the rain that grows our food and the sunshine we can enjoy. To experience the full withdrawal of God’s presence means the total withdrawal of His very person – whose attributes are the very definition of true love, mercy, patience, and kindness. Without God, there is none of this. There is no true love, kindness, mercy and grace.
Without God, there is hell.
That, exactly, is what the punishment of hell is. It’s not those satirical images of roaring lava and cartoonish devils. Hell is our living in sin’s misery and pain, as we destroy each other, without the grace of God to intervene. No one in their right mind would willingly go to hell.
Yet look at Jesus’ sacrifice. Completely without sin, Jesus didn’t deserve this punishment. Rather, he chose to be separated from God. Fully prepared to leave perfect happiness with His own Father, for despairing hopelessness in agonising death.
It’s way more than a riches-to-rags situation. Not only was he separated from perfect happiness, but God withdrew His presence as a punishment for sins he never committed – so not only was his death a forsaken one, but of shame too.
I can’t even imagine the crushing grief and the gripping loneliness that must have clutched his heart. What could compel him to stay in such a place? Three mere nails are hardly enough to bind Him to that cross. It was love that held him there. Perfect love for His Father – to obey His will – and love for our sakes – so that, despite our rebellion against God, we may be reconciled with Him and discover that fulfilling happiness ourselves.
Happy in my Heart
Of course, it’s not wrong to feel happy for earthly blessings, such as laughing with friends or enjoying a fun movie. But these things are only temporary. I’ve particularly come to understand this with my examinations finally over (yay!) and my grades being returned. From an objective standpoint, my grades were consistently high, despite my doubts while studying. I was both exceedingly relieved and happy. Unfortunately, the euphoria only lasted a little while. After a week, it had already worn off.
I’m sure that we all have experienced the fickleness of earthly joys at least once before. Like playing on the shore, the joyful bliss of standing on the warm sand is quickly washed away by the next unexpected wave. We’re sent crashing painfully down, left only with stinging eyes and a salty taste in our mouths to show for it. It’s important to remember that these blessings are exactly that – blessings. Just like how junk food, though delicious, can never replace nutritious meals, the blessings we receive from God should never be valued more than God Himself.
Many of you may have the same experience, but my personal journey of growing and learning about God has had many ups and even more downs. One thing that I’ve learnt recently is that you can’t grow unless you read His Word for yourself. To grow your relationship with a friend, you must spend time with them. It’s the same (and even more!) with God – because not only is He our best friend, but our loving Father too. I’ve found personally that when I manage to make time to listen to Him in my morning devotions, I’m filled with a sustaining blissfulness that strengthens throughout the day’s struggles. I hope that in whatever you’re going through, by His grace, His presence may bring a smile to your face as well.
Elaine (Anggi) Tambunan (14) is the editor and one of the many teens that write in RE Generation-Z. Through her articles, she aspires to remind more teens to live lives as lights in the world. She can be easily identified with a spectacled face buried in a thick novel or doodling.