G. K. Chesterton has been widely credited with saying, “Jesus promised His disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” It might be argued that most Western Christians aren’t any of these three . . . but least of all “absurdly happy.”
We tend to perceive Christianity as being about tradition and morality, not happiness. I make no apology for believing in morality. But some Christians, in the name of moral obligation, wear frowns, dutifully living a paint-by-the-numbers religious existence, and proudly refraining from what “lesser” people do to be happy. They seem to wear their displeasure as a badge of honor.
Gloomy Christians Don’t Win Friends or Invite Gospel Curiosity.
Hannah Whitall Smith, author of long-time bestseller The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, was raised in a religious home. She recorded these thoughts about churchgoers in her journal, years before coming to Christ:
Some look almost as if they think it is a sin to smile or speak a pleasant word. It appears to me that religion is supposed to make one happy, not miserable and disagreeable. . . . Instead of a cheerful voice there is a long, drawing, melancholy whisper . . . instead of love and concern for those who have not yet found the path of life . . . there is a cool standoffishness, a feeling of “I’m better than you”— that effectually closes off the slightest opening… And so, instead of the noble, beautiful, humble, liberal-minded, and happy religion I have so often pictured to myself, I see it as cross, gloomy, proud, bigoted, and narrow minded.
Sadly, some people still misrepresent Christianity this way, and equally sadly, some attempt to solve the problem not by drawing near to Christ but by watering down biblical truth to make it more appealing. The gospel is attacked on both fronts—on the one hand, stripped of its intrinsic happiness and on the other, stripped of its holy uniqueness and ability to deliver happiness.
After her conversion, Smith wrote to her son, “The Gospel is good news, something to make people happy; not a law to bind them.”
Unbelievers Have Valid Reasons To Fear That Becoming a Christian Will Result in Their Unhappiness.
They’ve known—as many of us churchgoers have also known—professing Christians who go out of their way to promote misery, not gladness.
I’ve seen Bible-believing, Christ-centered people post thoughts on a blog or on social media only to receive a string of hypercritical responses from people who wield Scripture verses like pickaxes, swiftly condemning the slightest hint of a viewpoint they consider suspicious. How is it that perpetual disdain, suspicion, unkindness, and hostility are seen as taking the spiritual high ground? If I were an unbeliever reading such responses, I certainly wouldn’t be drawn to the Christian faith.
In refreshing contrast, J. C. Ryle said, “I assert without hesitation, that the conversion described in Scripture is a happy thing and not a miserable one, and that if converted persons are not happy, the fault must be in themselves. . . . I am confident the converted man is the happiest man.”
Charles Spurgeon loved to connect the gospel and happiness: “There is nothing that more tends to strengthen the faith of the young believer than to hear the veteran Christian, covered with scars from the battle, testifying that the service of his Master is a happy service…”
Believers Too Often Reinforce the Grumpy Christian Stereotype.
Some professing Christians feel morally superior to those who engage with culture, and as a result, they major on making world-condemning judgments. They refrain from laughing not just at immoral jokes but any jokes. They assume that barbecues and ball games are the spawn of sin. Grim-faced pharisaical “Christians” make Satan’s propaganda campaign far easier by undermining the Good News and promoting a negative view of happiness.
“Affirming that by transgression of God’s commandments [Adam and Eve] might attain to felicity and joy . . . [the devil] caused them to seek life where God had pronounced death to be,” wrote John Knox. God created the physical world and happiness. But the devil doesn’t have a single shred of happiness to give. He specializes in rearranging price tags, making the cheap look valuable and the miserable appear happy.