What is the first word that comes to mind when I ask you: “What is God like?” You might have an answer ready on the tip of your tongue, or you might have to think about it for a moment. However, I’m going to guess that it likely was not “happy.” Some may think, “Oh, yes, that’s a good word to associate with God.” Others will be shocked. It would never occur to them to think of God being happy.
On today’s program, Ron Hughes, the president of FBH International is joined by Viji Roberts, a member of our board of directors. Together they are going to think about the happiness of God.
RON: Welcome, Viji. It’s good to have you back on the program.
VIJI: I’m glad to be joining you again, particularly for this interesting series that will explore some fascinating facts about God.
RON: It interests me that so many people, even those who hate to be stereotyped themselves, are quite content to think of God in a stereotypical way. These days God is most often conceived of as a lot like us only way more powerful and generally very angry.
VIJI: That is true. Instead of finding out how we are made in God’s image, we often reimage God to our own making. For example, we know what bothers us and how we react, and we assume God must do the same. Or we assume that God reacts the same as we feel about unpleasant people. But the problem is, none of our natural reactions or responses are the least bit helpful in understanding what God is like.
RON: Based on the line of reasoning you just mentioned, Viji, many people end up with the impression that God is unhappy and with good reason. He is
After all, we reason, we’re unhappy when we have to deal with turmoil, conflict, and disappointment, so God must be, too.
VIJI: As we’ll see in a moment, God has plenty to be happy about. But its worth considering where this negative stereotype of an unhappy God originated. We don’t have to look further than Satan. He is the one who is angry. He is the angry god of this world and Satan distorts the truth about God by projecting on Him his own hate, anger, and corrupt use of power.
God has already revealed Satan’s humiliating end and the devil isn’t happy about that. So the devil is determined to do as much damage as he can in the meantime. He is the one with the hate, fear, anger, pain, sorrow, suffering, and any other kind of negativity you can imagine. No wonder he isn’t happy and he tries to paint God with the same brush.
RON: God, on the other hand, can afford to be happy for several reasons. One that quickly comes to mind is noted in Ephesians 1:11. There we read that God is working “all things after the counsel of His Own will” (Ephesians 1:11). Human history records the dealing of God with His people and their response to him. There is an agonizing amount of sorrow recorded there — ultimately all due to the estrangement sin brought between God and us.
VIJI: We might think that this would overwhelm God with sadness. I’m thankful that while many times I am unable to see beyond the painful consequence of sin that God knows more. Tthe Bible says that human history is a mere blip on the “eternal time-line.” True, a lot of pain and sorrow has been crammed into it, but God always had a plan of redemption from creation. We read in Rev 13:8 one of those comforting verses it speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
RON: This sacrificial Lamb was none other than the Son of God, incarnated as a man, named Jesus and He made some marvellous things possible. Through His death, the broken divine/human relationship could be restored. Those who repent of their in-born tendency to rebel expressed in personal sin are brought back to the Father. Here’s how the apostle Paul described it to his Christian friends in the ancient city of Colosse.
Colossians 1:19-23 “For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
RON: This is something that gladdens the heart of God the Father, His loved ones who had separated themselves from Him, were reconciled to Him through the sacrifice of His Son. As we read through the New Testament we get the distinct impression that God is happy because His plan of redemption is well under way and is unstoppable. It will do what it is intended to do.
VIJI: That God rejoices in His children when then are in a right relationship with him is something we can trace back as far as the Garden of Eden. We can only imagine the happiness in the first days after creation when God sought out Adam’s company in the cool of the day. Perfect fellowship in a perfect environment is beyond our imagination, let alone our experience. Even after Adam and Eve’s sin and separation from God, the Lord still rejoiced over men and women when they turned from sin to God. We have so many references to this specific occasion when God spoke to His children during those times when they walked with Him in faith.
Deuteronomy 30:9 “The LORD your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the LORD will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, Jeremiah 32:41 ’Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.
Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
VIJI: These verses give us a glimpse at the happy heart of God as He enjoyed fellowship with His people, Israel. This, in spite of the fact that often they were unfaithful to Him. However when they repented, God was quick to welcome them back.
RON: The New Testament picks up this theme of the happiness of God. In Matthew 25, we have a parable which compares God to an earthly master who gave resources for His servants to invest. The two faithful servants were rewarded with the commendation of their Lord and told to “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Here we see God characterized by joy, into which His faithful ones enter as a reward for their labours.
Let me throw in a comment here about definitions. There are subtle differences between joy and happiness as we look at the words in the original languages as well as in English. But our purpose here is neither to confuse them nor to tease them apart. We’re using them rather interchangeably to refer to that positive, pleasant emotional state which is characterized by contentment within, peace with others, and a desire to celebrate. Sometimes making distinctions between joy and happiness may be useful, but no one thinks about that when they are experiencing the emotion. We mostly think about the definitions when we are not enjoying the positive energy and warm glow that comes with happiness, joy, contentment, peace, delight, pleasure and so on.
John recorded two of Jesus’s references to His own happiness.
John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
John 17:13 “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
RON: Jesus’ time on earth was not trouble free. He knew many of the emotions we do, however, he never lost that positive disposition which characterizes one who knows that, whatever the circumstances of life may be, eternity in the presence of God is the sure expectation.
In Luke 15 we find the record of Jesus describing God welcoming home his wayward children with a party that sounds like a happy, joyous event to me.
Luke 15:22-24 “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
Here we see people getting dressed up in the finest clothing, feasting on choice food and celebrating — which included music and dancing according to verse 25. It would seem that God’s environment is a happy one — a pleasant one. This is confirmed by a statement in the Psalms.
Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
VIJI: The theme is carried on in the New Testament when Paul wrote to Timothy, he referred to the glorious gospel of the blessed, or happy, God. Or in other words, the glorious gospel of the happy God. In the Greek language, one word serves for both “happy” and “blessed.”. As far as the Bible is concerned, if God is blessing you, you are happy, and if you are happy, it is because God is blessing you. God Himself is blessed, so He is happy, too.
RON: This leads us to some questions. We’re not going to try to answer these because each of us would have to answer them differently. How we answer these questions about God and happiness will reveal to us whether our understanding of the happiness of God is informed by the Bible or merely a stereotype we have unthinkingly accepted.
VIJI: Some people, perhaps because of a specific situation, or maybe just their disposition find it challenging to find and express much happiness. However, because God is happy, he wants us to be happy. He wants us to recognise how blessed we are and so you’ll find several examples where we are commanded to be happy.
Matthew 5:12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.
Luke 10:20 “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
VIJI: You’ll also find examples of situations where people experienced strong positive emotions, whether they called it happiness, joy, or something else. Let’s turn to the Bible again.
Luke 15:7 “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
Jeremiah 15:16 “Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.”
RON: Today, we’ve seen that God is happy and that He wants His children to be happy, too. No doubt about those things now, but perhaps we can take a minute or two to reflect on how God has secured our happiness. Here are some helpful words from the pen of Paul.
Romans 4:6-8 “…just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”
RON: God blesses us, or provides a happy state for us by forgiving our sins. He covers them with the blood of Jesus, so that they are no longer visible. Other passages put it even more strongly and assure us that our sins are actually removed from us, taken away, no where near us any more. This is the kind of happiness which overlaps into joy, peace, contentment and so on. Who can tell where one stops and another begins. When God fills us with His blessings, beginning with the blessing of salvation, life truly becomes abundant. Do you have anything to add, Viji?
VIJI: Well, just to say how happy I am to have spent this time with our listeners and to remind them of a few words we find in Proverbs 16:20. “Whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.”