by Doy Moyer
This is one of the catchphrases we hear of what is sometimes called moralistic therapeutic deism. The idea is that 1) God wants us to be nice to others and 2) He wants us to be happy. For the most part, God is seen as deistic, not really getting involved in our lives unless we need him to resolve a conflict for us so that we can be happy again. In the end, good people (as we define it) get to go to heaven when they die. Other than that, there are not many restrictions or requirements. Just be good and do what makes you happy.
The phrase may be heard in the context of someone justifying an action that otherwise is considered sinful. By this, one can justify any number of selfish actions. You can plug in just about anything:
God wants me to be happy.
This action X makes me happy.
Therefore, it must be what God wants for me.
Through this, we can justify leaving difficult marriages, entering other ungodly relationships, taking any number of drugs, or even worshipping God any way we want to if it makes us feel good. The question is not so much what is right according to an objective standard, but what makes me feel good subjectively (because that’s what makes me happy). Basically, this is the principle by which the world operates, and we have all bitten this fruit in some form or another.
America plays right into the hands of this faith since the “pursuit of happiness” is one of our encoded rights. We have the right to pursue what makes us happy, and how we interact with God fits right in with this. God must surely want this for us, and if you say otherwise, you don’t really love me (and love gets redefined, too).
“Well you aren’t saying that God wants us to be unhappy, are you?”
No, but I am saying that the path to true happiness is not going to be found in our own selfish desires and actions. God’s path to happiness is one that takes the long view stretching into eternity. It involves the suffering Servant giving His life for our sins, and it involves our recognition that in order to truly live, we must deny self, die to self, and realize that our lives are intended to be lived to the glory of His praise (Ephesians 1:3-14; II Corinthians 5:14-15; Luke 9:23). Life is not just about being forgiven; it’s about being transformed back into His image so that we are actually being and doing what we are created for (Romans 12:1-2).
The irony is that the more people pursue their own version of happiness, thinking it is what God wants for them, the more miserable they become because it is out of step with God’s created purpose. Moralistic therapeutic deism is a failure because it requires us to redefine who God is, who we are, what morality is, and what our true purpose is. Something may feel good for a time, but lasting happiness won’t be found in temporary pleasures (Hebrews 11:24-26). Selfish pursuits do not end well. To this, I can testify. Thank God for His grace!
What we finally will learn is that happiness does not come as a direct result of pursuit, but as a by-product of doing what is right by God’s design, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
None of this means that God has not also given us temporary pleasures to enjoy (cf. Ecclessiastes 5:18-20). We can pursue both what is right and what delights us, but it is always to be with a mind toward glorifying God and understanding that there will be a judgment (cf. Ecclessiastes 11:9). We cannot claim something to be the will of God if it is manifestly against what He has revealed or contrary to the principles of His revelation.
“God wants me to be happy”? As long as we understand our terms properly and realize God’s set boundaries and purposes, I can agree. But to use this as a catch-all for doing whatever you want? That just won’t fly.
To put this in a context of temporary and eternal, consider this exhortation from Hebrews 10:32-26:
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”