by Robert Jacobs
We are surrounded by a Christian subculture that often tells us that God wants us to be happy. At first glance, it can be difficult to see what is wrong with this line of thinking. After all, we know that God is a good father who gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11). Why would he not want us to be happy?
The problem with this “happiness logic” is that it distorts the divine image of the Father. It reduces the idea of virtuous fatherhood to the giving of gifts that bring instantaneous pleasure. God loves us so much more than that. In fact, He is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness. Sure, He gives gifts that can make us happy, but He ultimately wants to give us gifts that do more than provide temporary pleasure. He wants to give us gifts that conform us to the image of His son (Romans 8:29) so that we may “be holy as [He is] holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
Christ provides an example of this reality through his interaction with His disciples. In His gospel, Matthew records the narrative of Jesus walking on the water and calling Peter out onto that same storm tossed sea:
Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds…When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea…Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33)
So how does this story illustrate God’s desire for our holiness rather than just our happiness? First, Matthew notes that Jesus “made” his disciples get into a boat that He knew would be caught up in a massive storm. The word Matthew uses for “made” (ἀναγκάζω) is also used by Euripides, Aristotle, and Philostratus to indicate someone who “carries through by force.” In other words, Jesus forces His disciples to do something they don’t want to do, but in a way that ensures they will make it through.
Look specifically at the way Jesus calls Peter out onto the waves. This was a terrifying situation, not necessarily the kind of experience that would produce untold happiness. Jesus took Peter from the calm sea shore, put him on a boat headed for a storm, and then called him out of the little safety and security that he did have.
So, why would Jesus want to force His friends and followers to do something that would not provide them with immediate happiness? Why would He put them in a situation that, on the surface, even looked dangerous (though He clearly demonstrates His own mastery over the circumstance)?
He did it because He cared about Peter’s holiness more than his happiness. He did it because of what came out of the experience. After going through all of the terror, the discomfort, the distress, Peter was able to declare, “Truly you are the Son of God,” a revelation that impacted his own ministry and countless others through his letters.
How do you view God the Father? Is He a beneficent sky daddy completely focused on making you temporarily happy, or is He a father who is more concerned with your eternal self? Is He going to let you stay in the ostensible safety of the shoreline, or is He the kind of God who is willing to call you out onto the waves so you can discover and embrace truth?
More poignantly for those of us who struggle with SSA, is He the kind of God who will give you everything you are screaming for rather than what you need, or is He willing to not give you what you demand to give you what will make you holy? Look to the example of Peter and embrace the truth that God gives us what we actually need, even if He does not give us what we think we want in the moment.