This question is revealing, and it was the question one filmmaker recently posed to random sampling of people. The many answers were woven together into a diverse cross-section of common responses that include family, sunshine, beer, sex, and weed. You can watch the video on YouTube here [not for children].
I love the mix of personalities in this short. And I appreciate the honesty of the responses.
This video reminds me of the more intentional and thoughtful reflection of one author, a Harvard PhD, who wrote the book Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness (Douglas & McIntyre 2009). Those seven pleasures include reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing. All good things, and all common joys we all experience to some degree. But like the majority of video responses, the book’s starting assumption is that happiness exists pretty much within the confines of physical experience.
See happiness, as understood by sinners, is virtually confined to the sensory; what can be watched, touched, tasted, heard, smelled, and so on. Even with fully functioning sensory experience, sin leaves something of blindness over the eyes of the heart, a veil to cover the spiritual eyes to eternal reality. Sadly for many, God’s divine source of joy is invisible and talk of it is considered nothing more than a fantasy of unreality. To reverse the spiritual blindness for them—for each of us—requires the activity of God upon the soul.
I’m not trashing sensory joy at all. Sensory joy was God’s idea. And it’s one way God distinguished man from beast in his creation. But sensory pleasure is meant by God to point toward something greater. Take wine for example. Wine is a beverage that, when consumed in moderation, has the power to cheer the heart (Ps 104:15, Pro 31:6). Of course, too much wine leads to drunkenness and evil (Pro 20:1). Wine, like all of the sensory joy God created, is a loaded gun, useful when handled righteously but open to misuse because of the evil in the human heart. Nevertheless, God thinks it good to have wine cellars be filled floor to ceiling (Pro 3:9—10). But wine points us upward, to something greater, to a joy that transcends the vineyard and the bottle. The heart-gladdening wine that we can see with our eyes and taste with our tongues is nothing compared to the abundant joy that God offers sinners to taste by faith (Ps 4:7). For some, wine is the highest happiness. For others, the wine points to something greater. (This is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, transposition.)
For the Christian, the highest happiness is rooted in God’s unseen work and His promises—promises already fulfilled, and promises yet unfulfilled. We no longer live merely by sight and sound and smell and biological impulse. We live by faith. Joy can freely pulse throughout our lives because God has taken his judgments away from us in the cross. We have been forgiven. Our transgressions have been covered. And we see an approaching day coming when God will judge the earth and separate all evil and sin from his eternal kingdom. As we anticipate that day, we rejoice. We rejoice to follow God’s Word. We rejoice when His Truth leads us into the temple and into the presence of God where we find joy now and the offer of true pleasures forever (Ps 16:11). Despite the cares of life, God continues to offer His joy.
My point should be obvious. The Christian’s experience of joy is not restricted to the limits of sensory experience. Experiences of sensory joy remain; they are refined, purified, and shaped into God-glorifying enjoyment. A greater joy, the joy alluded to in sensory delights, is added to the sinners whose sins have been covered. We can stock the cellar, pop the cork, and lift the cup of gladness. We rejoice in the greater joy.
I am not preaching to the choir. I’m preaching to myself. I need to be reminded that all my greatest joys are found in the presence of God, the promises of God, and the forgiveness and hope of eternal life. In other words, I need a continual reminder to find my happiness at the place where all the streams of eternal joy converge—in the cross of Jesus Christ.
One day, of course, we shall see Jesus as He is. Faith will be unnecessary. And on that day the unseen delights we experience by faith, and the delights we experience through our senses, will fully merge into a marriage feast. But until that day we have God’s Word, and within it a full spectrum of extra-sensory sources of happiness.
So many Psalms are relevant. I’ll close this post with a handful of favorite excerpts. These words can clear away the fog of our sense-driven world for a few moments, and allow us to enjoy looking upon Him who is invisible (Heb 11:27).
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
6 Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Ps 32:1—2, 11
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Ps 34:1—5, 8
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
3 Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
3 When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
1 God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!
2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!
3 But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy!
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.