Don’t I have a right to be happy?
I can’t tell you how many Christian men and women I’ve met with, who’ve asked that question as they contemplated divorcing their spouses. My answer to the, don’t I have a right to be happy question is always the same – “not always!”
God never wants us “happy” in disobedience. He actually wants us to be miserable, until we’re willing to be obedient.
We do have examples in the Law of Moses, where God protects the rights of individuals, in the areas of property rights, the sanctity of marriage, restitution and the right to personal safety. However, by and large the idea of individual rights or “happiness” outside of God’s laws, in violation of them, is unheard of in scripture. Here’s a truth that permeates scripture, Genesis to Revelation; God almost always values the health of the community, including the church and family, over the rights or feelings of the individual.
Consider the story of Achan in Joshua 7. Achan took plunder from the conquest of Jericho that God had forbidden the Israelites to do. As a result God allowed 36 men to be killed in a subsequent battle. Achan had no right to disobey God so to teach the whole community of Israel a lesson, these men, Achan and his whole family were killed.
On other occasions God sent leprosy, snakes or swallowed whole groups of people in the earth, who rebelled against Moses or God’s authority. And when he decreed death for disobedient children, he did so for this purpose that, “All Israel hear of it and be afraid.” Deut. 21:21b
Personally, God’s way often appears very harsh to me. However, it’s clear that his goal was that his people would live under his authority and his wisdom and if they did so, they would prosper. If they didn’t, they’d suffer. He wanted them to believe and trust that “Father” really does know best.
At the very beginning of the church, we have the story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira in Acts 5. They wanted to be “happy”. They wanted the admiration of the church, but lied to get it. But, because they lied to God they were killed and we read that “Great fear seized the whole church…”
I Corinthians 5, describes a man who was committing adultery with his father’s wife. Presumably, he wanted to be happy. Paul instructed the church to remove him from the fellowship. Why? Because the man was violating God’s law. And, while we might think that the most loving thing we could do would be to forgive him, the Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul didn’t. Paul was teaching the church how to protect themselves from contaminating sin.
Just as in the Old Testament, God was demonstrating that he has no interest in the happiness of an individual when that person knowingly violates his laws or threatens the spiritual health of the community. God understands that contaminating sin, left unpunished, simply encourages others in their disobedience.
Happiness or joy only comes when we “do” the will of God. And, he never promises peace for those who violate it. Can they be forgiven? Of course! But, I’ve known men and women a decade after willfully disobeying God who still are not at peace with themselves over a decision to violate a clear teaching of scripture, and may never be in this life. This is true because we know, what God knows, that pain as the result of disobedience is self-inflicted and therefore 100% preventable.
God will protect my children
I’ve heard people make this statement when contemplating filing for a divorce on unbiblical grounds, “I’m relying on God to protect my children from the damage.” My comment is almost always the same, “God is expecting you to do that.” We don’t have the right to ask God to do something we have the ability to do for ourselves, if only we were more obedient. (By the way, I’m not speaking to spouses who are the victims of unfaithfulness, selfishness, or cruelty.) I’m speaking to men and women who choose to find their own happiness in ways God has prohibited and expect God to pick up the wreckage they’ve left behind. Does he do that? The answer is often “yes”, but not always.
The notion of individual happiness outside of the will of God is foreign to scripture. “Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.” Deut. 12:28
God’s laws are those we’d make for ourselves if only we understood what’s best for us.
Following Jesus in Real Life