What does the Bible have to say about happiness? How does it use the word happy? How does the creator of the universe describe the conditions for happiness?
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word asar means happiness or well being. It is used to describe the “prudent man.” “Blessed (happy) are all those who put their trust in [God]” (Ps. 2:12; 40:8; 84:12; Is. 30:18). And happy are those who obey God’s laws and holy ordinances (Ps. 1:1; 41:1-3; 119:1-8). In the OT, happiness has little to do with good hap, good luck, or good circumstances; it has everything to do with one’s “well-being” in relationship with God and being in harmony with the created order by obedience to God’s laws and ordinances.
When the OT Hebrew word asar is translated into the Greek, the word becomes makarios. Makarios in the New Testament means “blessed,” “happy,” or “fortunate.” The word is found 50 times in the NT with over half found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Outside of the New Testament, the word makarios was used by the Greeks to “describe the condition of the gods and those who share their happy existence” (Dictionary of New Testament Theology; Vol. 1, p. 215). This speaks of condition or circumstance which is meant to guarantee happiness, and is similar to the concept in our modern hedonistic societies. We want our circumstance to be good–we want a big house, beautiful clothes, the perfect job, and a snazzy car. As we achieve affluence and personal peace, either by effort or by hap, we are happy. If not, we are unhappy.
The most familiar place where we find the word makarios in the New Testament is in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus talks about the nature of happiness. He says in Matthew 5:3-11 (in Young’s Literal Translation):
3 ‘Happy the poor in spirit—because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
4 ‘Happy the mourning—because they shall be comforted.
5 ‘Happy the meek—because they shall inherit the land.
6 ‘Happy those hungering and thirsting for righteousness—because they shall be filled.
7 ‘Happy the kind—because they shall find kindness.
8 ‘Happy the clean in heart—because they shall see God.
9 ‘Happy the peacemakers—because they shall be called Sons of God.
10 ‘Happy those persecuted for righteousness’ sake—because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
11 ‘Happy are ye whenever they may reproach you, and may persecute, and may say any evil thing against you falsely for my sake—12rejoice ye and be glad, because your reward is great in the heavens, for thus did they persecute the prophets who were before you.
In all these verses the word happy is the Greek word makarios. But it is obviously not “good hap” makarios. In fact, Jesus refers to “bad hap,” or those in bad circumstances, in some of these examples. He also speaks of a happiness which belongs to those who exhibit Godly virtues.
First, those in bad hap:
-Those who mourn (vs. 4)–they have lost a friend or loved one, their job, a crop, their home, or they are watching their community or country disintegrate before their very eyes.
-Those who are persecuted for righteousness (vs. 10-12)–because they have followed Christ into the public square and marketplace, being called a fool, a radical, a troublemaker by society and those in power.
Why are these saints happy in the midst of their bad hap? Because of God’s promises: mourners will be comforted and the persecuted will be manifesting and receiving the kingdom of God!
Second, those who exhibit Godly virtues:
-Those who are poor in spirit—they know they are sinners (vs. 3)
-Those who are meek–they are humble (vs. 5)
-Those who seek righteousness (vs.6)
-Those who are kind (vs.7)
-Those who are clean in heart (vs. 8 )
-Those who are peacemakers (vs. 9)
Why are these virtuous ones happy? Because in the midst of everyday life they are manifesting the virtues of the Kingdom of God and experiencing its fullness!
Christ then goes on to explain what these happy ones are to the watching world:
13 ‘Ye are the salt of the land, but if the salt may lose savor, in what shall it be salted? For nothing is it good henceforth, except to be cast without, and to be trodden down by men.
14 ‘Ye are the light of the world, a city set upon a mount is not able to be hid; 15nor do they light a lamp, and put it under the measure, but on the lamp-stand, and it shineth to all those in the house; 16so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and may glorify your Father who is in the heavens (Young’s Literal Translation).
As Christians show the kingdom of God in the midst of difficult times or their difficult circumstance–their bad hap–they are providing the earth with the salt it needs for savor and preservation. They are allowing the world to see an upstream culture of truth, beauty and goodness that will eventually begin to transform the downstream institutions, structures, and civil laws of societies.
-Darrow L. Miller