I’ve recently been reading a new book by Tim Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. In it, he says that the modern approach to happiness is to remove any and all suffering: avoid pain, or if you can’t, sedate it. But, as he points out, “No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness, relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage.”
Many Christians are hesitant to talk about happiness that bluntly. We put a glib smile on and think that “letting go and letting God” should make everything all better. But the Bible gives a more nuanced perspective. It recognizes the dark reality of life and offers an answer for it.
An illustration in Psalm 1 compares a happy life to a flourishing tree, which assumes that life goes through seasons. There will be summer seasons when everything is going well, but there will also be winter seasons and droughts that threaten to starve us. If our strategy for happiness is staying in the “summer season” of our lives, then when our circumstances change for the worse—and, at some point, they will change—our happiness will disappear.
We need something deeper than circumstances. We need roots that go deep into the gospel, so that in the winter of loneliness, in the drought of depression, in the storms of temptation, our soul will remain steadfast.
Psalm 1 gives us two ways to drive our roots deep into the gospel: