Does God Want You to Be Happy or Holy?

Does God Want You to Be Happy or Holy?

For years, I have admired the books and ministry of Randy Alcorn, and I have been amazed at how God has put similar themes on my heart, notwithstanding his ministries name is Eternal Perspective Ministries. Randy has impacted incredible amounts of people through his writing, 9 million to be exact. Recently, I was intrigued and picked up his book “60 Days of Happiness“, a devotional based off his larger book “Happiness“. “60 Days of Happiness” has quickly become one of my all-time favorite books, and what I feel is one of the two most important books every Christian should read alongside their Bible. I wish I could post every chapter of the book with you, but alas it would be too long for a blog. I am grateful to Randy, and thrilled to share a portion of his book with you on today’s blog.


While researching and writing my book “Happiness”, I had dozens of nearly identical conversations. Someone asked, “What are you writing about?” I responded, “Happiness.” Unbelievers were immediately interested. Believers typically gave me an odd look, as if to say, “Don’t you usually write on spiritual themes?” They often responded, “You said happiness – did you mean joy?”

Today, Christ-followers say things like, “God wants you blessed, not happy.” “God doesn’t want you to be happy, He wants you to be holy.” But does the message that God doesn’t want us to be happy promote the “good news of happiness” spoke of in Isaiah 52:7? Does it reflect the gladness-saturated gospel of redemption in Christ? Or does such antihappiness obscure the good news?

When we separate God from happiness and from our longing for happiness, we undermine the Christian worldview. 

Many people I’ve talked with have the distinct impression that Scripture distinguishes between joy and happiness. Happiness is the reverse of joy? The two are infinitely different? Really? What is the scriptural, historical or linguistic basis for making such statements? There simply is none!

Joy is a perfectly good word, and I use it frequently. But there are other equally good words with overlapping meanings, including happiness, gladness, merriment, delight, and pleasure. Depicting joy in contrast with happiness has obscured the true meaning of both words. After conducting a thorough study of the Bible’s original languages, I’m convinced this is an artificial distinction.

THE BIBLE IS A VAST RESERVOIR CONTAINING NOT DOZENS BUT HUNDREDS OF PASSAGES CONVEYING HAPPINESS.

God says, “My word that goes out from my mouth . . . will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

What God says differs radically from what many people—unbelievers and believers alike—assume.

If we don’t explore the happiness-related words God put in the Bible, we’ll miss the richness of happiness in Christ lying beneath the surface of Scripture.

While no treatment of joy and happiness should deny or minimize texts of lamentation, a truly biblical doctrine of joy and happiness fully recognizes and embraces the realities of suffering in this present age. Happiness in Scripture is all the deeper and richer because it doesn’t require denial or pretense. We can experience it even in the midst of severe difficulty.

Some argue that the word happy is too unspiritual for Christians to use. But those who have studied the Hebrew word asher and the Greek word makarios, which are frequently used in Scripture, know that those words definitely convey happiness.

UNFORTUNATELY, BOTH WORDS ARE MOST OFTEN TRANSLATED “BLESSED” IN THE MOST WIDELY READ TRANSLATIONS

(Though many other translations render them “happy”). In 1611, when the King James Version was translated, blessed was a synonym for happy. So whether or not we recognize it, the Bible has talked about being happy all along.

Growing up in an unbelieving home, I never heard the word blessed. After I came to Christ I heard the word countless times. I didn’t know what it meant; I just knew it sounded holy and spiritual. It was “white noise”— one of many church words whose meanings are masked due to constant use.

Years later, I heard someone say that in passages such as Psalm 1 and the beatitudes of Matthew 5 and Luke 6, blessed means “happy.” My response was, “Huh?”

Because of what I’d read and been taught, I was certain this must be wrong. In passing years, I’ve dug for the truth, and my search has yielded rich and surprising discoveries—including that there are more than twenty different Hebrew words and fifteen Greek words in Scripture that are happiness synonyms. The Bible is full of references to happiness.

Despite the original language’s meaning, there’s a prejudice against using the words happy and happiness in English Bible translations. About thirty years ago, my friend John R. Kohlenberger III, the author of dozens of Hebrew and Greek reference books, handed the newly updated New International Version to the religion editor of a major newspaper. She immediately turned to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and was relieved to see that it said blessed—it passed her test. To her, blessed was spiritual and happy was unspiritual. Her primary concern didn’t seem to be what the original language actually meant but how the English translation sounded.

BUT “HAPPY” ISN’T THE ONLY WORD WITH BAGGAGE.

Many good words are commonly misused and watered down. The word holy has lots of baggage too. To countless people, it means being self-righteous, intolerant, and out of touch with reality. Since people routinely misunderstand it, should we avoid the word holy? Love is commonly used in superficial ways, as popular music has long demonstrated. People say they love hamburgers, hairstyles, and YouTube. They “make love” to someone they barely know. Since the word love has been so trivialized, should we remove it from Bible translations and stop using the word in our families and churches?

Of course not. Instead, we should clarify what Scripture actually means by love and holiness, as well as hope, peace, pleasure, and yes, happiness. When appropriate, we should contrast the meaning in Scripture with our culture’s superficial and sometimes sinful connotations. Is there selfish and superficial happiness? Sure. There’s also selfish and superficial love, peace, loyalty and trust. We shouldn’t throw out Christ-centered happiness with the bath water of self-centered happiness.

The world and the church once agreed that happiness was good and that all people seek it. We desperately need holiness, but it’s happiness we long for, and the church shouldn’t retreat from such an important word. On the contrary, we should give it a biblical context, reclaim it, celebrate it, and embrace it as part of the gospel message.

This is an excerpt of “60 Days of Happiness” by Randy Alcorn. Pick up a copy here.

This article originally appeared here.

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Randy Alcorn
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching biblical truth and drawing attention to the needy and how to help them. Before starting EPM in 1990, Alcorn for 13 years co-pastored Good Shepherd Community Church outside Gresham, Oregon. He has ministered in many countries, including China, and is a popular teacher and conference speaker. Randy is a best-selling author of over 30 books including Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home.