Joy vs. Happiness

The dictionary defines happiness as “an agreeable feeling or condition of the soul arising from good fortune.” And joy as “intense, especially ecstatic or exultant, happiness.”

The dictionary records general, not biblical, usage.

Real Christian joy has nothing to do with “good fortune” and little to do with ecstatic happiness as most of us understand the term. Confusion here is why casual handling of passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18–“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”–can do the suffering heart more harm than good. Disobeying God’s will is sin, therefore failing to rejoice is sin: correct. So we must smile and praise God, without qualification, for whatever happens in our lives.

WRONG. When a child dies, when a best friend moves away, when a dream is crushed, real Christian joy is free to grieve without guilt. Even Jesus shed the tears of a breaking heart.  

Real Christian joy is heart deep, rooted in faith and in the love that “always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7). It trusts that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28); yet it never attempts to deny, as some “positive thinkers” do, the pain of our fallen world. It looks in hope toward God’s future Kingdom where sadness will be no more (Revelation 21:4); yet it understands that sadness, temporary as it is, is still part of this life. It perseveres, not in ignoring the negative, but in trusting God through positive and negative alike.

Joy is not merely an intensification of happiness; it is a plane above. Joy can coexist with depression and emotional struggle; happiness cannot. Happiness is dependent on earthly circumstances; joy is dependent on eternal truths.

Happiness, in the sense of agreeable feelings, is impossible for some people under most circumstances and for all people under some circumstances. Joy is possible, under any circumstances, for all who belong to God.

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