When not being happy might be a sin

Has it ever occurred to you that not being joyful, not being as happy as you possibly could be, might be a sin? That God might not be impressed with our glumness? Might it just be that we are meant to be filled to the fullness with happiness and joy? I can hear some people say, “Wait a minute! That sounds very man-centred. Isn’t the job of the Christian to glorify and honour God?”

But that, it seems to me, is a false antithesis. According to Jonathan Edwards (1703-1759) God’s delight in himself and his joy in us and in our happiness are one and the same thing and need not be pitted against one another.

"God in seeking his glory seeks the good of his creatures, because the emanation of his glory (which he seeks and delights in, as he delights in himself and his own eternal glory) implies the communicated excellency and happiness of his creatures."[1]

So yes, we are created to worship God, obey God, depend upon God and so bring glory to God. But there is still one thing missing in the fullness of glorifying God and that is delighting in him and having our true happiness met in him. When we experience this kind of happiness then we are truly honouring God. He is not honoured by worship that is begrudged and glum, nor worship that is forced. He is honoured most when we are super-abundantly happy in him.

I have been reading Andrew A. Bonar in my morning devotions recently.[2] This man was greatly used by God. Yet he was able to say that he lamented his “long life’s sinfulness,” and he makes the point that he has received innumerable blessings. But what struck me most was that, in this context of lamenting his sin, he says,

"The Spirit has been, since my conversion forty years ago, continually putting to my lips full cups of blessing, and I have done little else than just take a few drops and then set the cup by!"[3]

Do you see how startling that is? It seems to me that Bonar sees his failure to drink to the full of the grace God offers as being sin. And if he is right, and I think he is, then this has implications for how we live the Christian life. All too often Christianity becomes whittled down to what we are to avoid doing and what we are to make sure that we do. And sin is then the failure to do or to avoid doing. Sin, of course, is actually more serious than that. It is the turning from God and seeking to be our own rulers. But here Bonar adds a nuance to this. Sin is to diminish or reject outright the grace of God. When God created us did so for a purpose, one that doesn’t revolve around us. He created us for his own glory. And that, of course, needs to be seen in a Trinitarian context. God the Father creates for God the Son so that the Son might be glorified in creation. The Son also is the agent of creation and he desires that the name of the Father will be glorified in that creation.

But God is gracious to his creatures none the less. He has ensured that worship and glorification of him will produce the greatest happiness in us. It will not be drudgery to serve and honour God. It will be our delight. But our first parents were tempted to doubt the goodness of God towards them. They were convinced God wanted to hold out on them. And they felt that of they were to be able to set the rules for themselves then no good thing could be withheld. They forgot that all good things come from their creator.

And ever since, when we contemplate God and his grace, the tendency is still there within us that says, “God doesn’t want me to have full happiness.” We still argue with God over what is really good. We want God to “get with the programme” to quote our current Prime Minister, to “move with the times.” We are still denying that God actually wants us to have the best and that he might just know what that is.

Even when we come to see the sin in our lives and turn to Christ in repentance, we can still end up feeling as though God’s grace, freely offered to us in great abundance, must surely not be for us. After all we are not worthy of it. And when we refuse to drink abundantly of the grace that God offers to us we are sinning. How so? Well, first, we are seeing the rich promises of God and saying, “I don’t believe they are really true.” Second, we are rejecting the good gifts that God has told us we should accept, we are again rejecting grace. And third, we are saying that actually God doesn’t provide for all our needs. And because we still have those needs but refuse to drink fully from the cup of grace that is offered, we have to try and find fulfillment of those needs elsewhere. And that is idolatry. 

And why on earth would we want to simply drink a few drops of precious grace when we are promised an overflow of grace? God wants us to enjoy and praise him because he knows that is where our greatest happiness lies. God wants the Christian life to be one of pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11), of “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). And we want to be happy. So why content ourselves with a mere taste of the waters of joy when we can drink to our fill from  the cup of grace God offers to us?

I think I will let Bonar have the last word:

"We are strange creatures. There is nothing we want more than joy, and yet when the cup is put within our reach we shrink from taking more than a few drops. The Holy Ghost wants us to drink the cup of blessing to the dregs."[4]

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World” in John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998), 176.

[2] Andrew A Bonar, Heavenly Springs: Portions for the Sabbaths of a year, selected from the diary, letters and sermons of Andrew A. Bonar, D. D. by his daughter Marjory Bonar (1904. repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986).

[3] Bonar, Heavenly Springs, 170.

[4] Bonar, Heavenly Springs, 59.


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