In the first chapters of Genesis, God had no competition for the affection of His creatures. Humanity found its meaning, purpose, and happiness in God. God was God; everything else wasn’t. And everyone knew it. The fall tragically changed that.
We turned from God, the one true source of happiness, to false gods of every imaginable description. False gods are anything we praise, celebrate, fixate on, and look to for help that’s not the true God. One term describes and unites them all—idols. To grasp a biblical theology of happiness, we must understand the nature and extent of our constant temptations toward idolatry.
Because we all sinned in Adam (see Rom. 5:12-14), we all became idolaters in Adam. Idolatry is woven into our very nature. John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”1
God created things as means to help us delight in Him. The problems start when we believe we can find more happiness in God’s creation than in God Himself. Those who seek happiness in false gods end up sacrificing their integrity, their families, their culture, and the very happiness they crave.
The Devil is incapable of creating, so he uses God’s good creation to tempt us, twisting it to his evil purposes. He never acts for our good, since he hates us just as he hates God, who made us in His likeness.
When we see the fulfillment of a desire as a gift and gratefully enjoy it for God’s glory, we find satisfying happiness. When we chase only the desire, we become miserable, enslaved to the very thing God intended as a gift. Idolatry isn’t just wrong; it also doesn’t work.
Those who argue over whether to use cheese or peanut butter in a mousetrap agree on one thing: the stronger the attraction, the better chance of catching the mouse. Every temptation uses false happiness as bait. A woman told me, “I left my family to find happiness. It didn’t last, and I sacrificed the greatest happiness I’d ever known.” In the name of momentary happiness, she made choices that brought her despair.
Satan always works this way. He’s been trapping and devouring people for millennia; he’s good at it. That’s why the Bible warns us to “be alert. … Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8, NIV).
John Piper says, “We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in.”2The one way to avoid idolatry is to take the most pleasure in the one true God. Once we recognize our idols, we must destroy them, exalting God alone. Only then can we know true and lasting happiness—the kind that all lesser pleasures are only shadows of. God calls each of us to demolish our idols and live our lives bringing glory to Him alone.
1. John Calvin, as quoted in Andy Park, The Worship Journey: A Quest of Heart, Mind, and Strength (Woodinville, WA: Augustus Ink Books, 2010), 40.
2. John Piper, “We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist!” Desiring God [online], 31 August 2006 [cited 30 October 2015]. Available from the Internet:www.desiringgod.org.