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What is biblical happiness?

by Mark S. Railey
Dec. 30, 2020

Let’s remember the film industry’s definition of happiness: In the silent films, happiness was helping someone. In the roaring 20’s, social gatherings. In the 30’s, heroism. In the 40’s, building something. In the 50’s, youthfulness. In the 60’s, hedonism and drugs. In the 70’s, pristine nature. In the 80’s, travel and love. In the 90’s, technological integration and fantasy. More recently, happiness is defeating the enemy. We are told that pursuing happiness is our inalienable right. Isn’t it interesting that the film industry has tried to define the pursuit of happiness. We may believe that happiness is family, health, property, friends, understanding our walk and feeling loved by God. But, what does the Torah teach about happiness? Let’s look to the oldest book in our library - the Book of Job.

In the story of Job, we see that family, health, property, friends, understanding our walk and feeling loved by God do indeed make us happy - they are the end result in the story. In the book, Satan points out Job to the Father, and exclaims that Job only loves God because of the same things we believe make us happy. In other words, Satan says we love God because He makes us happy. HaShem told Satan that he could test Job by removing all of these but Satan could not take his life. A tornado destroys Job’s property and possessions. His children and servants are killed. Job’s health collapses into a horrific skin disease. His friends give him bad advice and abandon him. Job cries out to God in confusion and hears nothing in reply. His wife tells him to “curse God and die.” And Job says, “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He knows he has lost everything that makes him happy.

If we stopped there, we could conclude “vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) and we would be right. However, this is a question of happiness and not vanity. What does Job teach us?: “Happy is the one whom the Lord corrects, so do not despise your life when God subjects you to trials and suffering” (compare with Job 5:17). In other words, don’t despise your life when all your happiness goes away. When we live in a time of correction, no matter how traumatizing the situation really is, by faith we can know at a deep level that “this too shall pass.” When God loves us so much that He redirects our steps, we can trust the One to bless us, one day.

We are on a journey. Happiness comes and goes and then returns and departs only to arise again in a new way. Did Job miss his departed family? Yes! Did he remember them? Of course! Did he discover happiness again? Most assuredly! Happiness is not family, health, possessions, friends, a walk with God, or anything Hollywood says. True happiness is rooted in joy. The Torah teaches in Nehemiah 8:10, “The Joy of the Lord is our strength.” That joy comes from knowing the Lord, deeply and eternally. It does not come because we are happy. How do we get this “joy?” The greatest Rabbi said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24).

Let me say it again: You may lose all your happiness through trials and suffering. Don’t despise your life. Ask the Father to strengthen your joy. The happiness may come and go, but it is the joy that will be your strength.

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