Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review-Happiness by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn has written a very thorough and comprehensive study on happiness.  He believes lasting happiness comes by believing in the God who created us, accepting God’s gift of redemption through Jesus Christ and by embracing a Biblical worldview. To substantiate his study, Randy goes back centuries and millennia rather than months or decades to quote Christian theologians and gather information from those who lived before us, many living in very difficult times and places. This lends relevance to Randy’s goal of bringing balance to Christians by correcting --  through Scripture and Christian history-- deep-seated misconceptions about happiness.

This is not a book for light reading.  It isn’t difficult to understand, but the amount of material to plow through and the repetition of subject matter made it quite a feat to finish. The book is laid out in four sections: our compelling quest for happiness, the happiness of God, the Bible’s actual words for happiness and understanding and experiencing happiness in God.

We each have a God given desire for happiness. Seeking happiness is natural and good. Right living furthers happiness, which many secular conclusions support. Jesus is the happiness that satisfies the longing.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in 1646 answers the question, “What is the chief end or man?” with, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  Other seventeenth-century writers like Puritan writer Baxter and William Law speak of the joy and happiness found in Christian living. 

Randy contrasts the message about joy and happiness that he uncovered in writings like these pre- twentieth –century Christians, with more modern spiritual leaders. The author quotes Oswald Chambers. “Joy should not be confused with happiness.  In fact, it is an insult to Jesus Christ to use the word happiness in connection with Him…Joy is not happiness; there is no mention in the Bible of happiness for a Christian, but there is plenty said about joy.” This is the misconception Randy rigorously sets out to correct throughout the book.

In making a case for God’s happiness revealed in Scripture, the author finds the Greek word interpreted in most translations of the Bible as “blessed”, to mean “happy”. This is how the original translators in the 1300-1600s would have understood the word, but gradually, the meaning of the word, when attached to God, evolved into portraying dignity or honor rather than happiness. We are happy when we ascribe happiness to God and Jesus; this conclusion is drawn from many verses sited in the second section of the book as well as quotes from long ago scholars and modern theologians who are recognizing the effect of erroneously devaluing God’s happiness.

Biblical words for happiness are defined, scrutinized, and cited in the ten chapters of the third section. The writing here is textbook worthy, exhaustive and exhausting to read. I dutifully plowed through the findings and concluded that it is good to know the Scriptures are full of happiness, and if I ever need to reference the fact, this will be a good resource. 

The book concludes with ways to cultivate happiness personally. Happiness is our choice and it is produced when we make wise choices such as keeping from sin, learning self-control, and devoting ourselves to the happiness of others.  Happy people celebrate, meditate on God’s Word, keep Christ central and live in gratitude. Eternal happiness is promised to God’s people. There are two appendixes after the last chapter that give further study of Biblical words that define happiness and almost 30 pages of reference notes.

I appreciate the enormous amount of research that went into writing this book and believe Randy accomplishes his purpose of proving that God is full of happiness and intends for his people to know the same happiness in their daily lives. There were times while reading the book that I felt a sense of gladness and release to celebrate more fully my relationship to the God who created us to enjoy him and our life together.

I received this book from Tyndale publishers in exchange for my honest review.

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