That Your Joy May Be Full (5 part article)
A THEOLOGY OF HAPPINESS (Article by Scott Swain President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando)
ABSTRACT: What is true happiness, where does it come from, and how do we find it? According to the Christian Scriptures, true happiness begins and ends with God. In the beginning, God’s Trinitarian happiness overflowed into a universe of delights. In the gospel, God gladly owned our poverty and misery in order to make us happy again in him. Now, by his Spirit, God himself dwells within his people, sharing his happiness freely and causing us to rejoice in him.
The Eudaimonia Machine is a work environment designed for what Cal Newport calls “deep work,” the state of undistracted, focused attention in which human beings are able to operate to the full extent of their creative capacities.1 This work environment “takes its name from the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia (a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential).” Though the Eudaimonia Machine exists only in the mind of its architect, David Dewane, not yet in reality, it rests upon a valid insight. There is a relationship between our environment and our well-being. There are both objective and subjective dimensions to human flourishing, eudaimonia.
The Eudaimonia Machine also reveals that there are competing conceptions of human flourishing. While the Eudaimonia Machine suggests that human flourishing or happiness consists in productivity, others have argued that happiness consists in the possession of external goods such as wealth, honor, and fame, or that it consists in the possession of internal goods such as physical health or virtue. As Aristotle observed, the pursuit of happiness is unavoidable, but its character is not undisputed.
The phenomenon of happiness is disputed because our perception of happiness is both limited (due to our finitude) and liable to distortion (due to our fallenness). We disagree about whether happiness exists — is it truly achievable, or is it just a mirage? We disagree about what happiness is — does it lie in riches, wisdom, power, pleasure, fame? And we disagree about how happiness may be achieved — should we pursue the American Dream or audition for American Idol?
What Is True Happiness?
Christian theology enters the fray surrounding human flourishing and seeks to expound what God has disclosed about this topic in his word. In response to the question of whether happiness exists, Christian theology confesses that happiness exists, first, in “the happy God” (1 Timothy 1:11) and, second, in creatures designed and destined for happiness in communion with the happy God (Psalm 144:15).
In response to the question regarding what happiness is, Christian theology confesses that happiness consists in possessing, knowing, and enjoying the supreme and unsurpassable good, God himself, the blessed Trinity. “I have no good apart from you,” the psalmist declares (Psalm 16:2).
“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And in response to the question of how happiness may be achieved, Christian theology confesses that divine happiness communicates itself to us, freely and abundantly, through the Mediator of happiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11; 17:13, 24–26).
In Jesus Christ, eternal, unchanging, and unsurpassable beatitude shines upon us and welcomes us into its all-satisfying presence. For now we enjoy a taste of this happiness on the pilgrim path of faith and repentance. One day we will drink fully and deeply from the infinite ocean of beatitude when we behold the triune God in the unmediated splendor of his personal presence, “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:1–5). This is our “happy hope” (Titus 2:13): that the God who dwells in unapproachable light and unlimited delight will also dwell with us (Isaiah 57:15–19; 1 Timothy 6:16), that God will be our happy inheritance, our happy habitation (Psalm 16:5–6), and that we will flourish in his presence to his eternal glory (Psalm 1:3; Isaiah 33:24; 61:3).
What follows is an account of happiness from a theological perspective. We will address the topic of happiness by considering various elements within the order of beatitude — that order of happiness that begins in and with God, that freely flows from God in the creation, redemption, and consummation of creatures, and that returns to and rests in God. (con’t tomorrow 😊)