Faith

Voices of Faith: Does God want me to be happy?

RABBI MARK H. LEVIN, founder, Congregation Beth Torah: The answer is unequivocally “yes.” The Torah commands rejoicing on festivals (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14), and Psalm 104:15 teaches that God provides wine for human joy. But there are other sources of happiness as well.

The first is loving. God provides family companionship and the potential for relationship through friendship that relieve our isolation. (Genesis 2:23-24, I Samuel 18:1) Humans may provide meaning to life through revealing our inner selves to others. However, disclosure requires unselfish sharing, “This one at last is flesh of my flesh …” which is becoming culturally less common as we seek personal fulfillment and advantage rather than altruistic sharing.

God has made humans masters over creation. Happiness is attainable when we act morally, rejecting greed. “There shall be no needy among you …” (Deuteronomy 15:4) If we appreciate that we have been handed enough abundance to provide for all and do not hoard for ourselves but provide sufficiently for all, then we will discover that when there are no needy all are happy. But that requires valuing what is ours rather than coveting what belongs to others.

Jewish tradition says, “Who is happy? He who is content with his portion.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

Finally, altruistic sharing enables us to experience transcendent self-worth: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) Identifying ourselves in the “other” creates one human family. Altruism requires reducing personal egos.

God provides true happiness when we let go of things and self-centeredness, providing adequately for all, uniting with God’s creation.

THE REV. JOHN HOLZHUTER, chaplain, Ottawa University: Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

God trusts us so much that the acceptance of this “true happiness” remains our own freewill choice. This profound blessing allows access to any and all paths — from choices that assure a continuum of supportive promises in the now (John 14:13-14) and the after (Matthew 5:3-12) to options prone to pulverize happiness in the strongest human spirit (Proverbs 17:22, 15:13).

Since childhood I’ve contemplated the potential benefits, had God not granted us the entitlement of “choice.” What if “forbidden fruit” had greater security? Humanity was unready for the options its harvest assured.

Surely, a small electric fence or fierce angelic guard would have been sensical. Why trust human nature? Misery lurks, and common sense dissipates, in the strong undertow generated by the “pursuit of happiness” labeled an inalienable (but not God-given) right by our country’s founders, a primary motivator by behavioral researchers and a target and/or trigger by advertisers and politicians.

Yet God loved us enough, from hour one on, to have faith in us and our ultimate potential for right decisions. Divine hoping for the best, while constantly dealing with our worst (Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11, Isaiah 1:18).

God’s confidence in our capacity to learn and mature leads to the do-over opportunity afforded by Jesus’ loving sacrifice. The core question then may be one to ourselves, “Do I truly want to be happy?”

Voices of Faith is edited by The Kansas City Star. To ask a question or reply to our writers, email faith@kcstar.com.

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