Abraham Lincoln is said to have observed that “most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Yet it’s pretty clear that happiness isn’t just a choice. There are plenty of reasons to be unhappy. How can Christians remain happy when the devil works so hard to make us miserable?
From the beginning, our central problem has been sin—not following the rules God gave us to maximize our happiness. Our first parents committed what seems in retrospect a fairly minor infraction. They ate from a tree, the fruit of which they had been forbidden to eat. But their deed was a harbinger of worse to come. Once the protection of God’s law had been breached, dishonesty, lust, and cruelty flowered among the members of the human race.
the gift we don’t accept
Sin is still our biggest barrier to true happiness, for one of the consequences of sin is guilt—that unhappy feeling we have when we know we’ve done something wrong.
Perhaps it was a sexual indiscretion, a lie that can’t be forgotten, or an unkindness to someone we love. “It happened many years ago,” one might say, “but it still weighs on me.” “It was a mistake,” another admits; “I shouldn’t have done it. Now I can’t get it off my conscience.”
The Bible offers a comprehensive solution to this problem. It says that God forgives all sins, readily and gladly, in response to nothing more than a simple request. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). There is no sin you’ve ever committed—even an offense that the law of the land must punish—that God won’t forgive when you ask Him to with sincerity and humility. He will erase your sins as thoroughly as if they were consigned to “the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
It seems to me that the problem is not with God’s willingness to forgive but with our unwillingness to accept His forgiveness. Like an insensitive houseguest, guilt often hangs on much longer than it should.
Suppose I’ve carried a 50-pound backpack for a score of miles, and when you meet me at my destination, I’m complaining of sore muscles and blistered feet.
You say, “Let me help you take this heavy load off your back.”
“Thanks,” I say, “but I can’t take it off.”
“But there’s no need to carry it any longer,” you say with a note of surprise in your voice. “You’re here. You can put it down now.”
“It’s mine,” I insist, “and I don’t think even with your help that it can be removed!”
You would think me rather stubborn and a bit foolish, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. Yet that’s what a lot of Christians do with God’s forgiveness.
“I forgive all of your sins,” Jesus says.
“But I don’t think You can forgive this one,” we protest. “What I did seems so terrible to me. I can’t believe forgiveness is as easy as that. So I’m going to keep holding on to it and feeling bad about it.”
Jesus is able to lift all our burdens and give us spiritual and psychological rest. Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Please note that word gift. There’s no other way to get God’s forgiveness than to accept it as a gift! So why keep on suffering? Let God forgive you and lift the weight of guilt from you!
the trouble with families
If you were to ask me what diminishes human happiness more than anything else, I’d have a ready answer: difficulties with the people we love. We want to see our children grow up to be happy and successful. We want to have kind and supportive relationships with our spouse, parents, and siblings.
Too often, that doesn’t happen.
Our children, especially, can break our hearts. I remember talking with a woman whose son had been arrested for a drug offense. “We tried so hard to raise him right,” she said. “Why did he do this?”
I have some cautionary news and some reassuring news. The cautionary news is that God has given your loved ones the same freedom of choice that you have. They can choose a righteous path or a self-destructive one. God values human freedom so much that He won’t force anyone to do what he or she chooses not to do.
The reassuring news is that God understands your loved one intimately, and in response to your prayers, He can influence him or her in profound ways. God is the Master Psychologist.
With prayer, I’ve seen marriages healed that everyone thought were beyond repair. I’ve seen God bring feuding siblings back together. I’ve seen children and parents learn to love one another again.
Prayer, the Bible says “is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). He who gave His own Son for our salvation will exert all His power to make our families happy. Just ask Him!
a frightening world
Irene’s living room was comfortable and calm, but she was neither. It showed in the lines on her face, in her voice, and in the nervous fidgeting of her hands. “My children are traveling overseas,” she said, “and I can’t stop worrying about them. I hear of bombs, hijackings, hurricanes, earthquakes, deadly diseases. Who knows what could happen to them?”
Fear and anxiety are at the root of much of our unhappiness—and not without reason. This earth isn’t a peaceful place. “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” Jesus said. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6, 7).
First, please remember that although such things happen, our fear of them may be exaggerated. Because we can now instantly communicate troubling events from every part of the world and concentrate them into five-minute news broadcasts, many of us feel in danger. But remember that everyone on this earth lives under the promise that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Clearly, God protects most people from most tragedies most of the time.
Still, there are real reasons to be frightened. This is why we’re surprised when Jesus calmly says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). Really, Jesus? When wars, terrorists, tsunamis, and earthquakes can kill thousands, You say we shouldn’t worry? Why not?
His answer is one of the most important truths in all of the Bible: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3).
There are plenty of reasons for all of us to be unhappy. But there’s one big reason for every Christian to be very happy, indeed. All our fears and worries fade in the light of it. The reason is that this anxious and sometimes tragic life isn’t all there is. Death is not the end. Jesus has a place prepared in heaven for those who trust Him.
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus warned. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He overcame the world and everything that makes us unhappy when He stepped from His grave on that first Easter morning.
It may not make sense—Paul calls it a peace “which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7)—but those of us who know that our eternal life is assured don’t need to be afraid of anything.
What could possibly make us happier?
Loren Seibold is a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, USA, and he is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.