The Bible instructs us emphatically, “Be Happy Always!” (1 Thess.5:16)
Greetings once more Friends! Look at the picture below, it bears an uncanny resemblance of a smiley face. I thought it would be nice to share it with you in this write-up about happiness.
“Happy Islands,” Manukan Island, Sabah, Malaysia (Pic: Wiki Commons)
A “Happy Heart is Good Medicine!”
God would not instruct us to “be happy always,” unless He is that way Himself, and He has the way to bring this blessed condition to reality in humans. While putting this post to paper, my thoughts went to the pressing issue that’s currently affecting us all and has brought apprehension and fear– the Ebola virus that’s taken the lives of many in West Africa and more recently its introduction into the United States. Of course, I am not for a moment discounting the many other pressing issues facing us all. The World Health Organization (WHO) latest report (Nov. 2014) estimates 13,268 reported cases and 4960 reported deaths. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the Ebola cases in three of the countries most affected is two or three times higher than reported.
I asked myself if continuing to write about the topic of happiness is still pertinent and relevant? Sickness and disease have been with humans since the dawn of time. The reason Ebola has grabbed so much attention is because the virus is fatalistic with no known cure. My prayers are with all those affected. Amidst all that, a passage of scripture came to mind, “A cheerful (happy) heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov.17:22) When we are uncertain and fearful, it crushes our spirit, and that’s bad medicine for the body. Happiness and fear don’t mix – like oil does not mix with water. So if anything, perhaps there’s no better time to prescribe some good medicine of a happy heart than now, to replace our apprehension and fear of an unwelcome virus. Besides, as long as God says, “Be happy always,” there’s always a way through this pressing times.
Happiness is God’s Will for You!
The opening passage above tells us to be always happy no matter the circumstance. And it adds, “Pray continually, giving thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s (your Father’s) will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Thess.5:17-18) To be in a constant mindset of joy is God’s will for us. Why is that? We saw in Part 1 that God is the Source of joy, so He lives in eternal happiness. We would not know what joy and happiness is if we were not made in God’s image. (Gen.1:26-27) When people are uncertain and fearful it’s hard to be happy, and very unlike God’s image. It’s twice as hard when fear becomes irrational. It takes a lot of courage to be happy, in fact it takes the divine Love of God. The Bible tells us that “Perfect Love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18). There is no fear in Love. Only God’s Love is perfect. It is through Love that we are cared for even in the most desperate of times by a God who declares Himself as our Loving Father. Human love is imperfect for fear is at its foundation. Remember, we closed the first part saying the happiness is a state of mind. So, let’s continue with this topic, which I feel is more relevant now than I realized at first.
The 3 Elements!
We touched on two elements of man’s experience he had with God when he lived in complete joy and happiness in Eden. These two elements were Adam’s purpose of “keeping the Garden,” and not eating of the “forbidden fruit.” Happiness is bound to a life with “purpose” and a moral obligation to your God and your neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31) Both are acts of Love reciprocating the Love received from our Father. The forbidden fruit was really called the “fruit of good and evil.” (Gen.2:16-17) “Good and evil” can exist primarily between humans through human relationships, thereby, the “forbidden fruit” has to do with man’s moral obligation to one another. So, happiness is tied to man’s purpose and moral responsibility. The third element was introduced after Adam’s fall. Adam’s sin had its repercussionary effect on man’s fallen, depraved, and corrupt existence which ultimately led to death. (Gen.2:17; Rom.3:23) Where there is sin, it has to be atoned for, it’s natural justice. Since humans are fallen beings, there cannot be found among mankind anyone to be man’s savior. There was only one option – God Himself, who is perfect, sinless, and holy, has to come and be man’s Savior. Jesus, the Son of God, who proceeds from the Father, became the sacrificial Lamb for man’s sins. He took our humanity upon Him to rescue man. Not only did Jesus rescue man, He glorified man in Himself through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father in heaven.
How does these three elements bring happiness? Let’s look at each and highlight their salient features which contribute to man’s happiness.
1 Human Purpose & Destiny
If we see the account in Eden, we will see that Adam’s purpose was given to Him by the Father. That is the first and most vital truth about a life of purpose. Adam did not decide for himself what his purpose was going to be. God gave him gifts to enable him to carry out his purpose and calling. God gave him instruction “to dress and keep the garden.” (Gen.2:15) Adam and Eve took care of Eden totally happy in what they were tasked to do. It was an act of Love reciprocating the Love of the Father who provided Eden as a gift. Adam could well have chosen other task for himself. Eden had rivers where gravel was gold and precious stones. (Gen.2:10-14; Ezek.28:13) But Adam’s calling was not to seek a self-centered life for himself and his wife, but to take good care of Eden. Now we must ask, what was Eden, what did it symbolize and represent? The answer to that question responds to the question of man’s purpose and the happiness it brings.
> What was Eden?
First and foremost Eden was the most beautiful, delightful, and magnificent garden that has ever existed, and ever will. With His own hands God planted it and freely gave to our first parents. Not a blade of grass was planted by Adam, nor was a flower bed seeded by Eve. Eden was handed to them on a platter. Second, Eden was their “home.” Eden had all a “home” could ever give our first parents where they lived in excellent health, secure, with untold abundance. But more than that, a “home” means family, it means there are other humans beside Adam he calls his neighbor. In essence, “home” or Eden means relationships. Recall, Adam was alone until God created Eve to be his wife and life partner. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen.2:19) That’s how relationships was born in Eden. This is how God made relationships an essential part of Eden. In short, “dressing and keeping” Eden metaphorically meant maintaining their relationship with God who planted it, with each other, and their neighbor. Eden was about God, home, family, neighbor, community. Most of all, God was the central part of Eden. When God said, “Let us create man in our image and likeness,” the “our” referred to the Love of the Father, His Son, and the Spirit. Thereby, out of their brimful Love for each other, they created Adam and Eve, and their home, Eden. They in turn reciprocated this Love in fulfilling God’s purpose for them.
> God Replicating Himself
What was God doing? He was replicating the relational oneness God had in His Tri-Personal Being in the life of Adam and Eve. God is not a solitary, single-person, God. Jesus came and revealed God as Trinitarian and Love from eternity. (John 6:46, 3:16; 1John 4;8) This Loving relationship was and is the way God existed in His Triunity from eternity and He wanted them to understand and live in God’s image and likeness in a real, tangible way. (Gen.1:26-27) From eternity God the Father has Loved His Son, and in the same way included us in His Love for His Son. So the Son chose to include us in His Love for His Father. God is Trinitarian and their Love for each other as Father, the Word (before Jesus became human), and the Holy Spirit, was now being reproduced in our first parents. These two principles of living is the basis upon which Adam and Eve lived happy lives. Much later, Jesus repeated the two principles when the religious leaders of His time asked, “Which command in the law is most important?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God…and Love others as you Love yourself.” (Matt.22:34-40) Eden was about relationship with God and our fellow humans. “Dressing and keeping Eden” was about maintaining those relationships in the Father’s Love.
> The 3 Drivers
There’s another important point about what Eden symbolically means for us today. We have the tendency to look at life in our human short-sighted view dedicating our lives selfishly to seeking human sustenance, security, and material desires. We’ll call them the ‘3 drivers’ for short. Jesus tells us, “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” (Matt.6:32) Yet, that is not where our purpose and happiness lies – far be from it! In fact, what happens is the ‘3 drivers’ leads man down the path of self-centeredness and creates competition and greed, and before man realizes the spirit to dominate other humans is in control of him, and sadly, this becomes the motivation of his relationship with other people. God wants us to set our Love on Him as He is completely and genuinely focused on our welfare in His love for us.
Yet, God calls man to a purpose that consists of the most basic of tasks. It has nothing to do with your sustenance, security, or material needs, it has to do with relationships. Relationships calls for His Love to be at the forefront of our lives. Relationships calls for our commitment to obligations to God and fellowmen. This is the path to happiness. Love calls for creative living in our relationship with God and with others. Unfortunately, many think that such a path is not worthy of their attention, let alone dedication. They regard the path of relationships with its moral undercurrent as beneath their notice, and some go to the extent of associating it with weakness. Unfortunately, they fail to realize that the very energy that would propel them to happiness, is what in their blindness they have rejected to their own hurt.
SUSTENANCE SECURITY ABUNDANCE
> 3 Drivers – God’s Responsibility
Yet, unbeknownst to them, these ‘3 drivers’ that they have dedicated their lives seeking, God says emphatically is His responsibility in the first place, not ours! O what a relief that is – if we believe! Just like He provided for our first parents in their sustenance, angelic security, and material abundance in Eden, He does so today with believers. As I said in Part 1, what God had set in motion in Eden as it concerns man’s wellbeing, his joy and happiness, Adam’s disobedience could not invalidate or abrogate. That’s an unrelenting law that’s in motion then, and is still in motion to this day. It’s the law of His divine Love! In the areas of the ‘3 drivers’ Paul says this about God the Father’s continuing Love for man, “You can be sure (confident) that God will take care of everything you need, His generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abound in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes.” (Phi.4:19-20, MSG) Jesus said, “People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things (3 drivers), but you know both God and how He works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matt.6:33, MSG) Yes, this an eternal promise He has bound Himself to keep. Both Jesus and Paul reminds us that God already knows what we need before we ask, and it is His task to bless us, so we can focus out effort on His purpose in our lives of building Loving relationships. Jesus reminds us that we will face enough tension trying to focus on building Loving relationships as it is, not to mention the ‘3 drivers,’ so He assures us our Father’s provision for us. And that’s how happiness is cultivated and harvested in human life.
In uncertain times like the present when we are facing the Ebola crisis, God is not unmindful of our joy in His Son. He even promises healing so we don’t need to fear sicknesses and diseases. The Psalmist writes this, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies; Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psa 103:2,3,4,5) His healing promise assures us, “I am God your healer.” (Exo.15;26, MSG) There is not a circumstance in our lives without a promise for our defense from our Loving Father – His Love is like a life insurance policy. This is the basis of our joy and happiness in His Son.
Frankly, I could give you five principles of happiness to follow like many how-to books on the subject. They are a dime-a-dozen, but I do not profess to be one of them. What I write about is God’s answers to human concerns and dilemmas, and happiness is one of them. (You may also read my blog post entitled, “Gift and Calling – What Is Its Purpose?” posted on 01/30/14)
2 Do Not Eat the “Forbidden Fruit”
Let’s be clear about one thing, by giving Adam and Eve the instruction to not eat from “the tree that bore the fruit of good and evil,” or commonly known as “the forbidden fruit,” God was not withholding something good from our first parents. Author Michael Reeves asked, “What, then, went wrong (in Eden)? It was not that Adam and Eve stopped loving. They were created as lovers in the image of God and they could not undo that. Instead, their love turned. When the apostle Paul writes of sinners, he describes them as “lovers of themselves, lovers of money… lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim.3:2-4) Lovers we remain, but twisted, our love misdirected and perverted. Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God. And this is just what we see in the original sin of Adam and Eve. Eve takes and eats the forbidden fruit because of a love for herself – and gaining wisdom for herself – has overcome any love she might have had for God… The problem is deeper than her actions, deeper than outward disobedience. Her act of sin was merely the manifestation of the turn in her heart: she now desired the fruit, more than she desired God.” (Delighting in the Trinity, Pg.65)
Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise after Eating the Forbidden Fruit (Pic: Wiki Commons)
There was nothing wrong with the fruit per se, but it is about what it symbolized. Just as “dressing and keeping Eden” is symbolic of human purpose and relationships we have seen earlier, so is “the forbidden fruit.” What does it symbolize? If Adam’s purpose has to do with relationships, then it follows that the “forbidden fruit” has to do with man’s moral obligations in his relationship with one another beginning with his wife, Eve. Think about this, it is only in human relationships that we are called upon to act with moral civility – of Loving neighbor as one self. Of necessity this requires a determination of what civil means. It means there is a right and wrong way to live and relate with people. Otherwise, what could “the forbidden fruit” mean in the absence of human relationships and interaction? No other living species created by God requires the exercise of the mind to decide how to relate with each other through right and wrong choices, except man.
So, the symbolism of the “forbidden fruit” portrays man’s moral obligation to each other. In the ten commandments God gave Israel, He catalogs what the “forbidden fruits” are as we relate with our neighbors: do not steal, do not murder, do not covet what is your neighbor’s, do not lie, don’t commit adultery, respect your parents. The commandments also inform us about how we are to relate with God. (Exo.20:1-17) The commandments, given in future imperfect participle (“thou shall not”), is a type of reverse engineering of our fallen self in contrast with God’s Love, from which vantage point we take moral responsibility for our choices.
These two pillar truths of purpose and moral responsibility were sufficient elements for a happy life in the Father’s presence were it not for a momentous event which changed the direction of man’s blissful destiny in Eden. Here is man’s dilemma, not only as it relates to happiness, but to every human dilemma and its underlying cause: because of Adam’s (man’s) change of heart from loving God, he came under a cloud of deception and darkness resulting in his blindness by the devil. Everything God has set in relentless motion in Eden before Adam’s fall, the devil had turned around for his own dark and evil schemes. Man had lost all the spiritual energy and wisdom to live his true purpose on earth. What we witness in mankind’s history of cruelty, man’s humanity to man, of the carnage and untold suffering in the past 6000 years is testament to man’s fall from grace. Purpose was no longer tied to a moral code of loving relationship with others, but replaced with the loving pursuit of material vanity at the expense of others. People’s relationships were driven entirely materialistically by the ‘3 drivers’ without consideration for another’s wellbeing, let alone God. (Mat.6:32) And so, as we enter the post Eden era of man’s fallen journey on this earth, and in His time, God fulfilled His promise to send the Messiah to restitute what was wronged in Eden by man.
3 The Provision for a Savior & Mediator in Jesus Christ
In short, the provision of a Savior is to take man back to man’s original estate in Eden in the presence of the Father so happiness can be part of his life once more. Let me now explain God’s plan for doing this in the post-Eden era. When Jesus came He came bearing the most joyful of all messages for mankind from God our Father. Jesus came revealing God as Father whom we can approach and be loved as His eternal children. (John 3:16; 1:18) The angelic hosts announced the wonderful news to the shepherds in this way, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy (happiness) for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace (happiness) to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luk.2:10-11, 14) When Jesus embarked on His 3-year ministry as an adult, John the Baptist presented Him to the world with these words, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:29, 34) What was happening here? The apostle John affirms, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus is the “Word” who dwelt in the Triune Godhead from eternity, and Loved by the Father from everlasting. Now, He is human like us – adopting our weak, frail, vulnerable, fallen, sinful, humanity. The prophet Isaiah foretold the Word’s coming in this way, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Isa.7:14; Matt.1:23) God has come close to humanity as a Father does out of the depth of His Love.
Cross to the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland. (Wiki Commomns)
I am presenting the above scriptural passages so we know for certain only God, revealed to mankind as Father, could have saved mankind from his fallen depraved nature he inherited from the devil through Adam. How can fallen man save himself? It cannot be done, it’s impossible! Albert Einstein, in an indirect way, speaks for man and affirms this conclusion, saying, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” (‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein,’ http//Icarus-falling.blogspot.com/) It has to take a transcendent external Being who is Creator, who is none other than the Word, eternally Loved by the Father, who became Jesus Christ, the Son of God and now the Son of Man. (Matt.16:13-17) The Word, holy in His Being, becomes the Immanuel, “God with us” incarnated, to rescue man from death. Paul said, “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1Cor.1:30) Sinful man will always exist vicariously in the perfect, glorified, life of Christ, in the Triune Godhead.
The Word took our humanity upon Himself and became Jesus for the purpose taking man back to his original estate with the Triune God. Jesus lived a perfect sinless life in man’s place, was crucified as man’s Savior, He was resurrected and ascended to heaven, taking our humanity into His eternal place in the Triune Godhead of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Before Jesus departed this earth He promised to send the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to dwell with and in man forever. “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17a) So, here we see the “Triune Life” man is called to live in his physical body, involving the Father, Son, and Spirit. By saying “forever,” Jesus affirms the Spirit’s role to ultimately take man across the chasm from mortality into immortality. (2Cor.5:5; 1Cor.15) Of course, this is the ultimate answer to man’s question of happiness – for in the presence of God man will experience everlasting joy. (Psa.16:11; Isa.61:7)
In our present human estate, happiness becomes man’s inheritance in this way: the Bible says that man becomes a “temple” for the Spirit to make His abode. (1Cor.3:16) And right here we see the spiritual process by which happiness is made to shine in the heart of man. For through the Spirit, man is being spiritually and constantly transported to the very presence of God to replicate the Adamic life in Eden with purpose and be our brother’s keeper. The only difference is Adam was in physical Eden, and the believer now lives in spiritual Eden. The spiritual is made reality when the Spirit brings the miraculous life to man. Let me be the one to testify to you, when you experience the life of miracles, nothing could be more real.
So, what does all we have read here tell us as it relates to happiness? It tells us that Eden is the place of happiness – but Eden is not as far-fetched as we might think. Jesus came as Savior to reopen the way back to Eden. The way back to Eden was closed because of man’s sin, remember. (Gen.3:23-24) The Spirit takes us to this wondrously happy place every moment of every day of our lives. It is in spiritual Eden where God gives us a purpose and the Love to live with moral responsibility with our fellowmen. This is not the place to live in fear in our fallen humanity, but a place of Love, of purposeful living, and lasting happiness, and the new person in Jesus.
God wants all humans, regardless of who they are, to return to Eden and to the bosom of the Father who loves us beyond words can ever tell. (2 Pet.3:9) To prove His intentions, He did not spare His Son He has Loved from eternity, the Son who was the Creator of man, to take our sinful humanity, so through Him we may return and find joy in His Fatherly presence. I have said this catchphrase in several of my previous posts, God made man to enjoy being in His presence. That, in its simplest form, is the essence of the Gospel message. It is a message of happiness. (Ps. 16:9,11; Neh. 8:10; John 16:24). God has a purpose for us all, but we must not lose sight of the purpose of our gifts, and not live in self-righteous legalistic mode in them. Reeves says, “The Spirit of the Father and the Son would never be interested in merely empowering us to “do good” (purpose). His desire (which is the desire of the Father and the Son) is to bring us to such a hearty enjoyment of God through Christ that we might delight to know Him, that we might delight in all His way, and that therefore we want to do as he wants and we hate the thought of ever grieving Him.” (idid, Pg,101) I sincerely hope you will stretch your hand and take hold of Jesus’ hand so He can lead you back to your Loving Father, and to the happiness that is deserved yours.
Until we meet again in my next post, may the blessing of the God who ceaselessly expresses Himself in His dependable Triune Love, be with you today and give you strength for authentic creative “Triune Living” as a Bulamanriver.*
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write me in the space provided below, or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kiang, (Your Servant in the Lord)
* The “Bulamanriver” is the metaphor describing the union of man with the Love of the Triune God flowing in humans, making possible the “Triune Life” – the source of the miraculous life in man. Man is the “riverbed” and the Spirit is the “living waters” that cover him and flows to all in his valley (destiny). (John 7:37-39)
All scriptures are taken from the NIV Version 2011, unless stated otherwise.