On happiness: a theological outline
January 18, 2016
I. Christian theology addresses the topic of happiness by addressing, first, the being and works of "the happy God" (1 Tim 1.11; 6.15) and, second, the happiness of the people whose God is the Lord (Ps 33.12).
II. God is happy because he possesses infinite riches of being, wisdom, goodness, and power in and of himself (Gen 17.1; John 5.26; Rom 11.33; Eph 3.16) and because he possesses these infinite riches within the perfect communion, knowledge, and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 11.25-27; John 17.24-26). The happy God is the supreme paradigm and source of all creaturely happiness.
III. Though we may speak of the happiness of all sorts of creatures insofar as they may achieve various states of rest and satisfaction in various circumstances (e.g., the duck who finds peaceful habitation in the pond), creaturely happiness, in a strict sense, is a condition proper only to certain kinds of creatures (i.e., angels and human beings), who are capable of possessing, knowing, and loving both finite and infinite objects of happiness.
IV. Human beings in their natural state are intrinsically incomplete and unrealized. Therefore, they can only acquire happiness in relation to other creatures and, ultimately, in relation to God, the supreme happiness toward which all creaturely objects of happiness direct us. This natural state of human beings exhibits itself subjectively in the soul's restlessness, hunger, and thirst to possess finite and, ultimately, infinite objects of happiness: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord. . . Happy are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise" (Ps 84.1-2, 4).
V. Because the ultimate happiness of human beings lies in God, God must instruct human beings in that ultimate happiness, and also in the way that leads to that ultimate happiness, if they are to realize their natures in relation to God (Gen 2; Prov 8.32-36).
VI. Human sin and folly consists in throwing this divine instruction aside and in pursuing the wrong objects of happiness in the wrong way: in exchanging the glory of the happy God for the false promises of wealth, honor, fame, power, health, and pleasure. "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2.12-13).
VII. Despite our sin and folly, God wills to communicate a share in his happiness to miserable sinners. To this end, the Son of God became "a man of sorrows" in order to bear "our griefs" and to carry "our sorrows" (Isa 53.3-4). In drinking the consequences of our sin and folly to the last drop (Matt 26, 39, 42; John 19.28), he became the fountain of eternal happiness: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11.28); "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6.35).
VIII. The supreme happiness of the redeemed cannot be achieved in this life. In following the path of their Lord, the redeemed are characterized by poverty of spirit, mourning, hunger, and thirst, along with the loss of various creaturely objects of happiness through persecution (Matt 5.2-12; Heb 10.34). Nevertheless, even in this life, the redeemed can "rejoice and be glad," because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, because they shall see God (Matt 5.8, 10, 12).
IX. The supreme happiness of the redeemed lies beyond this vale of tears in the vision of God (Matt 5.8; Titus 2.13). When Jesus appears to receive his people into his eternal kingdom, they will see him as he is (1 John 3.2). In seeing him as he is, they will fully possess, know, and love God, even as they are fully possessed, known, and loved by God (1 Cor 13.12). Thus they will be completely happy: "in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps 16.11). In the vision of God, our human nature will be realized as we rest and rejoice in God; our natural hunger and thirst for God will be fully satisfied in God:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middles of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the three of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev 22.1-5).