Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Oh, the Happiness

Blessed is the man. (Psalm 1:1)
Well, it’s a new month, which always brings me back around to Psalm 1 (150 psalms divided by 30 days in a month is 5 psalms a day, and day 1 is for Psalms 1-5).

Blessed is the man! The Hebrew word for “blessed” is esher, which comes from the word asher, which literally means to be straight, and in general usage describes a state of well-being that is level, right and happy.

The Jewish Publication Society version says “Happy is the man.” The Amplified Bible, in its expansive way, has, “Blessed (happy, fortunate, prosperous and enviable) is the man.” I like how Young’s Literal Translation puts it: “O the happiness of that one.” Actually, the Hebrew word is in the plural, so we can just as well say, “O the happinesses of that one” (of course, my spell-checker flags me on that).

Some religious people prefer the word “blessed” because “happy” seems … well, too happy. They want something more subdued and “dignified” so that people don’t get their hopes up more than is seemly. Of course, these are the same people who think that joy is supposed to be an inner knowing that is quiet and reserved. But the Biblical words for “joy” mean, not only to be light-hearted and glad, but also to shout, jump, whirl, twirl, spin, creak and squeak for joy. That all sounds pretty happy to me. And though such joy is very expressive, it is not superficial and transient. It is an abiding peace and happiness that springs from the deep wells of the heart.

Other religious Christians will complain that “God wants us to be holy, not happy.” And if we had to choose between the two, holiness would be the way to go. But I don’t believe that God is a crank or that we have to make such a dour choice. In fact, I would say that if a person is not very happy, he is probably not very holy either. Likewise, if someone is not holy, then I expect he is probably not very happy. That’s because, to bring it down to more of a street-level understanding, holiness is not about living some sort of stuck-up religious life, it is about being in on the best deal going: the life-changing, world-changing purpose and favor of God.

That’s exactly what we find in Psalm 1. The ecstatically happy man is not the one who walks in the counsel of the ungodly, stands in the path of sinners, or sits in the seat of the scornful (v. 1). That may bring a superficial appearance of happiness, but it vanishes pretty quickly. No, the person who is deliriously happy is the one who goes right to the source of joy — the Lord Yahweh, in whose presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). The truly happy man is the one who delights in the instruction of the Lord and is constantly pondering it (Psalm 1:2).

So what does that happiness look like? God gives us a picture. Imagine this:
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Who leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
(Psalm 1:3)
Do you see it? Perhaps it is a date palm. Watch how God carefully cultivates it, taking it from a barren place and planting it alongside His beautiful flowing river. See how strong it is, how firmly it is established. Do you see the leaf, how green it is? It will not wither, not even in drought — it is watered by the river of God. Can you hear the water babbling? Storms may come, but this tree will not cast off its fruit; it will come to a rich, full harvest in the proper time. Lie down in the shade tree and feel the coolness. Reach up and pluck the fruit, and taste the sweetness. It is the picture of prosperity and happiness.

Oh, what happinesses God has for you and me! What joy in His presence! What favor in His purpose! What delight in His ways! That’s something to shout, jump, whirl, twirl, spin, creak and squeak for joy about.