A number of objections have come up to my using of the terms joy and happiness and my saying that we should seek our happiness in God. I have been wrestling with these, and if they cannot answer the objections, then I want to scrap them and to follow God in truth.

Objection #1: You are confounding joy and happiness… You see in the Psalms, when David is utterly in the pits, he has a hope that God will deliver him.
Answer: I would return first that I think this objector is confounding joy and hope. Joy first of all, is defined as great happiness or something that makes someone rejoice. Hope on the other hand is defined as wanting or expecting something to happen.
Hope is akin to a confidence or a trust in somebody or something. We see David describe his assurance and his trust in God, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my HOPE is in him” (Psalm 62:5 ESV).
Secondly, we see in the Psalms that when David is in the pits, he pleads for joy. After taking another man’s wife, and then sending him off to be murdered, David is stricken by godly sorrow. David pleads with God, “Let me hear JOY and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice…Restore to me the JOY of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:8,11 ESV).
Another place I find even more compelling in how David speaks directly of God delivering him from the pit. “O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 30:3). Then he speaks of a pit-like experience two verses later, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but JOY comes with the morning” (vs 5). What is implied here is that joy is as much a change in countenance and mood from weeping as the light of a new day is from the blackness of the prior night. David does not describe being in joy WHILE he was in the pit, but speaks gladly of the God who delivered him from the pit. He tells how God turned his morning into dancing, and loosed his sackcloth (a garment worn for fasting, grief, penitence and extreme desperation) and clothed him with gladness (Psalm 30:11).

Objection #2: For one, happiness is circumstantial, while joy is not. When things are good, you may be happy, but when everything is bad, you may be joyful.
Answer: To answer the second objection, I would state that joy is also circumstantial. What?!!
Yes, read on. Why do the early Christians (Hebrews 11) REJOICE at the plundering of their property? For the very reason that God is bringing to mind the circumstance that they have better possession in heaven. If this CIRCUMSTANCE, namely that they had a better and abiding possession somewhere else were not there, it would be better for them to, “Eat and drink, for tomorrow [they] die” (I Cor 15:32 ESV). God has stamped them with a joy that can never be taken away. God glorifies his name by bringing praise, rejoicing, etc. to his name during impossible circumstances.
Isaiah foretold good news of great HAPPINESS (Isaiah 52:7 NASB).
Why do the disciples REJOICE (be full of joy) and jump for joy that they were counted worthy to suffer for the gospel? “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Why does Jesus tell his disciples during Luke when they are persecuted to “Rejoice and JUMP for JOY on that day”?
Of course, like the Christian’s happiness, the Christian’s joy is also circumstantial. It is hinged on the presence and abiding love of God. It is hinged on God’s approval and abiding influence in their lives. And if God puts his seal of approval (irrevocable) on a man or woman, then they cannot but have this seal uncovered and stared at in the midst of various trials. Then if the circumstance of God’s seal and Holy Spirit is present, then they may overcome all other circumstances. But this is not in spite of circumstances, but because of one very unique and special one that is greater than all of the others! That seal cannot be washed off or pried off or torn off by anything. Like the King issuing the edict in Esther could not revoke his seal, so God cannot revoke the seal of his Holy Spirit that he places on his people.
What then, brothers, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35)? To paraphrase Paul, I wonder if it would be acceptable to ask, what then brothers can separate us from the Joy of God in Christ Jesus? Can plague, sickness, suffering, sorrow, death, demons, enemies, malicious talk, hatred, family disputes, or anything else? No, because we worship a God whose power and goodness are greater than all of these and shows us that we are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with Good (Romans 12:19-21). And digressing for a moment, I think this could apply to the remaining fruit of the Spirit, “What can separate us from the peace of God… What can separate us from the kindness of God… What can separate us from the patience of God? (Gal 5:22-23)”

Objection #3: The world has happiness, but only Christians have joy. Furthermore, the joy that Christians experience is a choice, NOT an emotion.
Answer: To answer the third objection, I will say that Jesus himself speaks of the world having joy. In his last hours with his disciples, Jesus tells them another parable to illustrate a spiritual truth that will soon be real to them. He uses the story of a woman going into labor, and then proceeds by saying that she will have sorrow knowing her hour has come. So too will the disciples have sorrow. But it does not end there. The woman will have JOY when she finds a baby born into the world. This is not a special joy that will only be for Christian mothers, but for mothers in general. The distinction between this woman’s joy and the disciple’s is that hers is temporal, while theirs will be eternal. The deep seated joy, rooted in the soil of the Holy Spirit, will not be dug up. There are things that God created that are good and cause many to take joy in them (babies, marriages, feasts, graduations, alms to the poor, etc.), but they are derivative and people of the world end up drinking trickles of the run-off instead of from the main basin of the fountain of joy.

And finally, I will come to my point of agreement with my objectors. The object of our happiness and of our joy being in anything less than God alone will be infinitely unsatisfying.

As I have time and understanding, I would like to talk later of some of the objections I have had. For example, if God created us for joy, then how come some of those closest to and most obedient to God cursed the day of their birth (Job and Jeremiah for example) and pleaded to God for death?
Stay tuned!


The struggle for joy is not confined to new converts or to the youth in the Lord, but seen all over Christendom. Recently I heard a president of a prestigious Christian college say at a yearly gathering that God did not create “you and me to be happy. It was to be a holy living worshipping body.” Are our happiness and our holiness mutually exclusive? Another pastor said recently, “Joy is NOT happiness… happiness comes from ‘happens’… etc.” I would like to deal with that argument later.

For now I would like to present a rationale, deductive argument to show the real emotional parts of joy. Let’s turn to the uses of the words and their definitions as well as some questions! What is the opposite of being happy or having happiness? Most likely, you would answer being sad or having sadness. What is a more extreme state of sadness? Many will rightly answer sorrow. Can you have sorrow without having sadness? I do not see how you can or can rationalize that from their definitions. Let us quickly view their definitions:
· Sad- Unhappy, feeling/showing unhappiness/ sadness / grief / etc.
· Sorrow- grief- feeling of DEEP sadness caused by loss or misfortune. Is sorrow an emotion?
Now the opposite of sadness is happiness and the opposite of sorrow, as we see many places, is JOY (John 16:21-22 for example). Now how can sorrow, sadness, and happiness all be emotional states while joy is not? More on this, God willing, to come soon! Hopefully, as I have time, I can wrestles with and address the intermingling of these emotions as well.

For the JOY of the LORD is our strength,


“Happiness and Joy” or “More Proof for Christian Hedonism”
Testimonies and historical examples

During the summer, I asked a question to Bible study.
“If this were true: that the Perfect, loving, all-powerful, holy God stepped down from heaven and suffered abuse mocking, beating, and death at the hands of men to blot out their sins and give them eternal joy with God, what would those who profess to follow God look like?”

Here were some of the many answers that I got:
1) They would be sincere and true
2) Without deceit. They would give everything for the kingdom and its cause
3) They could be anyone, look like anything
4) They would be in awe
5) Joyful, happy
6) Grateful
7) Once would have been mockers, sinners
8) Open to learn
9) Considerate
10) Know they had been made new
11) Sorrowful for those who were lost. Sorrowful that they put the one who loved them so much through so much pain
12) Have an eagerness and urgency in life
13) Set apart
14) Quick to forgive
15) Reverent

Before I continue with this, I have another story to tell shortly. I received an email that said, “Don’t ask God for patience or he will give you something to be patient about!” It did not take me five seconds to taste that and see it was not good. I promptly wrote back that I believed that argument came from The Pit and was no thing from God. Two examples came to my head to verify that taste. The first one I noted was that Paul specifically prays for the believers at Colossae that they would have patience [and endurance with JOY]. Additionally, patience was noted specifically as a fruit of the Spirit along with love, self-control, JOY, faithfulness, and others. Saying not to seek patience because you might have to demonstrate having it would be like saying, “Don’t ask God for love, or he will give you something to be loving about; or don’t ask God for joy, or he will give you something to be JOYful about; or don’t ask God for self-control, or he will give you something to be self-controlled about.” Will God give a rock to his children who ask for a loaf of bread (Matthew 7:9)? If someone warns not to seek patience because God would give something to be patient about, did they press on to receive that patience?
Now let’s move back to the example from Bible study. What was obvious here is often hidden and even blotted out in deeper discussions. The person for whom Christ died would have an abundance of emotions towards God that would affect every other area of their life. Look at #5: they would be full of joy, they would be happy! Look at #6, they would be grateful. They would have the heartfelt emotion of gratitude, and not the dry lip service of, “thank you.”
Now I come to my contention, and let’s see if it is Biblical. Taking James 1:2, “Consider it all JOY brothers when facing trials of many kinds,” many make the immediate disclaimer: Watch out, this is NOT happiness!
Going further than that, a speaker I respect in Navigators said, “God NEVER promises you happiness in the Bible. Look. You won’t find it. He promises joy…” I showed him a number of verses after his talk, and he confessed he should not have said it the way he said it. I will show you more verses and let you make the decision.

But first let’s look at how joy and happiness are defined in the dictionary:
HAPPINESS – Feeling pleasure / feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or JOY.
Ex- When he heard he was going to the baseball game downtown, Jimmy was full of happiness.
JOY – Great HAPPINESS / feelings of great HAPPINESS or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind 2) something that brings happiness.
Ex- After rehabbing her knee during the off season and working harder than ever before, Jane jumped for joy when she won the tennis championship.

From just the dictionary, I ask, how do you say that joy can be had without happiness? The objection may be that happiness is cheap and joy is deep. But happiness is still contained in joy. It’s like saying you can get to the bottom of the ocean, without first getting through the upper layers of water, as if you are somehow teleported into the depths.

I’ll start first by saying we are commanded to be happy in God, and that furthermore God threatens terrible things on us if we will not be happy in him, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with JOYFULNESS and GLADNESS of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you will serve your enemies whom he will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything…” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
Now let’s look at James 1:2 again:
“Count it all JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
At first glance, it seems logical and easy to say that these trials are not to result in a happy condition. After all, they are trials and will result in discomfort and most likely emotional and possibly physical injury. Fine, then we would expect someone going through these trials to be in a more intellectual, emotion negating frame.
But what we find throughout the Bible is exactly the opposite!
The believers mentioned in the book of Hebrews faced especially sharp persecution. The author writes to them that,
After you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you JOYFULLY accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:32-34).
But were they really joyful (taking pleasure or happiness in this) as they had their possessions looted, bodies afflicted, and friends incarcerated? Didn’t they miss their nice house, hunger at the lack of food, and take pains at their friends going through prison, public reproach, and physical affliction?
Let’s look also at how the disciples reacted to public reproach for the name of Jesus and then turn to the words of Jesus himself before returning to these questions.
When the apostles in the books of Acts were apprehended by the Jewish authorities, they were beaten and then charged not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then, God tells us, “they left the presence of the council, REJOICING that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
What does that have to do with happiness? Let’s look at the dictionary again:
REJOICE-Be happy, to feel very happy or show great happiness about something. Make somebody happy. Fill somebody with happiness.
But why were they so happy that it spilled over to rejoicing? To answer that, let us go to two different teachings from Jesus.
In the Beatitudes of Luke, Jesus says that the poor are blessed, and those who are hungry and who weep and who are hated because of the name of Jesus. He goes on to say that on the day of persecution, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for JOY, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:23).
If the joy experienced by the disciples were merely an intellectual head knowledge, and a neutral mood not necessarily an emotion, it would not result in the physical fallout of rejoicing and leaping. It might be conducive to a state of hope during and after the trials where they have some distant belief in deliverance, but not an actual pleasure. But is this the joy that gets them to leaping?
And let’s look at what Jesus promises before tying this back together:
In his last hours with his disciples before the crucifixion, he told them they would be sorrowful. But he said their sorrow would be turned to joy. Notice an extreme negative emotion is used to contrast the state he tells them they will have. Then, furthering his analogy, he compares their sorrow to that of a woman about to give birth. She has sorrow because she knows her hour has come. But then she will forget the sorrow and have joy when her child comes into the world. What woman is not filled with the emotions of happiness, joy, and contentment when she finally brings her child into the world? Jesus continues and says, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
So when the believers are beat in Hebrews, they realize that they have a possession ten thousand times better than any of the worldly possession! They realize that the kingdom of God within them cannot be beat out. The kingdom of God within the disciples cannot be threatened out. Their joy, their great pleasure in seeing God, their great great great happiness in Jesus cannot be driven out by anything. The loss of their physical possessions solidifies the presence and promised inheritance of the kingdom of God.

In Matthew 13:44 Jesus tells a parable about what it is like to find the kingdom of heaven, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his JOY he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” They have taken great pleasure in finding God’s kingdom.

So the disciples and the Christians in the book of Hebrews took pleasure in God during their trials. Are there other ways the Bible speaks about this?
Psalm 37:4 “DELIGHT yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Matthew 25: 21, 23 says to enter into the joy of your master.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit- Galatians 5:22-23. These are not dry, static, intellectual traits, divorced from the heart, but God glorifying emotions that separate Christians from the world by their deep-rooted obedience to God and endurance through all kinds of struggles. God can miraculously bear this fruit when the world says that the circumstances make it impossible to be patient, to love, to be joyful, kind, faithful, etc. Why? It’s a miracle and his good pleasure to do so.
Luke 10:17- Disciples joyful evil spirits cast out. Jesus told them not to be joyful about that, but rather that their names were written in the Book of Life.
Luke 15:7- Jesus tells us there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 who have no need of repentance.
Luke 19:6- Zaccheus came down joyfully from the tree joyfully. And why not? He had just been addressed by and told to host Jesus!
Luke 1:14 “You will have joy and gladness and rejoice at [John’s] birth.”
Philippians 2:17- “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

This argument so far leaves out the very real aspect of discipline in Hebrews 12:11 and elsewhere regarding God’s discipline as not being pleasant / joyful. In short, God shows his displeasure in something his children do by disciplining them. They do not experience joy at having grieved God, but rather a sorrow. God does it for our good that we might share in the holiness of God and the joy contained therein. God disciplines us like a surgeon amputating a gangrenous limb. The patient with his leg removed is not happy, but in pain. His leg, that which was so often of so much use, is now gone and the place it came from is throbbing. The surgeon just saved him from the infection, but the pain is much more real and close than the comfort of having his life saved. The discipline or pain now may be such that he does not even want the life he was given.
And this is just scratching the surface. I would encourage you to investigate this further in prayer. Investigate it in the Bible and look at the way the words are used. Read C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory, Jonathan Edwards “Miscellanies” (a 500-600 level work. Not easy to read), John Piper Desiring God, Sam Storms One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God.

Fine. Happiness and joy can be flushed out from different places in the Bible. But is this just some new fad, or have Christians throughout the last 2000 years sought after and entered into this happiness in God?
The great saint of the early church said, “If I were to ask you why you have believed in Christ, why you have become Christians, every man will answer truly, ‘For the sake of happiness.'”
-Augustine as quoted by John Piper in Desiring God

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
-Blaise Pascal as quoted by John Piper in Desiring God

I expressed some of these thoughts on happiness vs joy to Charlene Hoskins a year ago, and she, looking back after being almost killed and driven from her home with her family overseas wrote:
Which brings me to your thoughts on happiness — !!!!!! I wasriveted, challenged, and amused, all at once. You’re so right. Happiness is a subset of joy, as in a Venn diagram with joy being a large circle and happiness being contained within it, entirely surrounded by it. If my joy is full (Jn. 16:24), then how could I be unhappy?? Oddly enough, even in very trying circumstances, such as when we fled Lebanon on a Greek cargo ship, at night, there were moments of happiness shot through the whole trip, because, underlying our sorrow at leaving (I’ll never forget passing Palestinian gunboats and seeing Beirut burning) was an unshakeable HOPE that God had the whole thing in the palm of His loving hand. That hope gave much peace, and so I was released from runaway worry and was able to actually enjoy the ‘cruise.’ Some of the happy moments I clearly remember were: the Greek sailors completely enjoying holding and hugging our kids (Matt was 5, Maria was 3); thebeautiful sky and sea (it was July); walking on the pure white sand ofCyprus, and everything was quiet and peaceful, no guns. Of course, we both know what people *mean* when they say ‘God doesn’t promise happiness’ — the worldly kind of happiness, the shallow kind when we get our own way. But I think you’re reacting to the idea that God promises a kind of insipid joy, a ‘joy’ that comes from having done our duty, a tight-lipped kind of joy. I say, is that joy???!!

-Charlene Hoskins

“There is northing dreary or dreadful about [the Christian life.] It is meant to be continually joyful… We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord whose joy is our strength.”
-Amy Carmichael as quoted by Elisabeth Elliot in A Chance to Die

“Yet the Christian life is not one of gloom, but of ever increasing joy in the Lord.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer knew suffering. He built up the underground church in Nazi Germany, spoke against Hitler, and aided his Jewish friends. He was ultimately captured and hung by the Nazi’s for his political dissension.

“I wanted to be happy. Joy, satisfaction, contentment, call it what you will. If you have your own little category of JOY is what Christians have and HAPPINESS is what the world has, you can scrap that when you come to the Bible. The Bible is indiscriminate in its use of pleasure language. It is lavish in all of them, and none of them is chosen above the other.”
-John Piper

“In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Thus when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness. This is so far from being inconsistent with the freeness of beneficence, that, on the contrary, free benevolence and kindness consists in it.”
-Jonathan Edwards as quoted by John Piper in Desiring God

“God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it… He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his DELIGHT in it.”
-Jonathan Edwards as quoted by John Piper in Desiring God

John Newton, the man who wrote Amazing Grace, had a great way of looking at this. He told a story to point out what Christian have in Jesus.
“Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, ‘My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!'”
-(Richard Cecil, Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton, in The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), p. 108.) as quoted by John Piper

“… Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
-C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory

So next time you are put through a trial and testing, remember, what is refining for but gold? And what is gold for but the King? Remember, a pearl is only formed by pain (that of a small creature); the beatiful object comes from a grain of sand. Remember, diamonds come from coal, and are made such by an immensity of heat and the crushing force of the earth. Rejoice in the beauty of God’s holiness and God’s being set apart from sin, lies, and deceit. Remember that God’s holiness is the pure love, pure joy, pure peace, and true happiness.

By God’s Grace I write,