Monday, October 19, 2009

happiness and rejoicing

it’s terrible theology, really.
i’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.
since jesus christ came in and took away my sin,
i’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.
ever since i listened to my first toddler bible song cd with luke and heard those lyrics, i have been troubled by them. is this what we’re teaching our kids? if i believe in Jesus, i’ll be happy all the time? i’m sorry, but…what a lie.

don’t get me wrong: the christian life is full of joy. and the scriptures teach us--command us, even--to rejoice. paul exhorts the philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always; again i will say, rejoice” (phil 4:4), and the psalmist tells us to “be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, o righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (ps 32:11).

but rejoicing and happiness are two different things indeed.

merriam-webster's online dictionary (have i mentioned how i lament the loss of actual dictionaries along with actual thesauri and actual books, even? oh no, never a kindle...a topic for another post, maybe) defines "happiness" as "a state of well-being or contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience." meanwhile, the dictionary defines "rejoice" as "to feel great joy or delight."

there's a difference. no?

"happiness" is a noun. it is a thing that one has. that silly song promises that i will have happiness all the time if i have God. "rejoice," on the other hand, is a verb. it is something one does. as a verb, then, it is something i must choose to do. paul does not tell the philippians they have happiness. he tells them to rejoice. get busy doing something, not waiting for something to be given to you. the psalmist does not say you are happy. he says rejoice! shout for joy! do something!

in fact, the scriptures do not promise happiness but suffering. and in this suffering--get this--we are called to rejoice. it's all over the bible. "not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (romans 5:3). happiness does not produce perseverance; if our circumstances are all happy, what do we have to persevere for? i'll take character and hope over "a state of contentment" any day. "rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed" (1peter 4:13). rejoice in sufferings, so that i may be overjoyed. okay: i'll take "overjoyed" over "happy," thank you very much.

don't get me wrong: i love a happy occasion, a happy day, a happy moment. i'll take all the happy i can get. but i won't expect to be inright-outright-upright-downright happy all the time (inright isn't even a word, for crying out loud, and don't get me started on the non-words we waste time teaching kids) because that's not what scripture promises. i'll expect to be beyond happy--to be overjoyed--someday; and in the meantime, i will rejoice and persevere in hope and anticipation of that day. again, i say rejoice!


Cortney said...

i have always detested that song...seriously, could we get a little more fake christianity in the world.

Rebecca said...

That song is Bad, to be sure. I've been reading John Piper's _Desiring God_ though-- have you read it?-- and it's making me think about this.... Still, I think I agree with you here. I think I do.

And I am Totally with you on the dictionary. And the thesauri. And Never a Kindle. No. Never. Ever.

But you already guessed that much, I'm guessing.