“Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face (of Gandalf) now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 3
Life is rarely clear cut. Emotions overlap; good news and bad news as well as crises and opportunities often arise at almost exactly the same time. This week, I have seen God doing amazing things through our staff as they prepare to open the doors of the church to in-person ministry this fall. I have seen God providing in amazing ways as our new facilities take shape, and I have reveled in small but poignant family joys such as a pre-school “graduation” and my granddaughter’s birthday. At the same time, I read the news in horror—my heart breaks for terrified Afghans, disconsolate flood victims, and Haitians whose world has been literally shaken. Such mixed emotions.
The Book of Psalms provides Scripture’s clearest display of mixed emotions. The Psalms include many statements about happiness, but also some of the saddest of songs, which we call “laments.” Perhaps the saddest is Psalm 137, a reflection on the life of God’s people, carried off in war from Jerusalem (Zion) to live in exile in Babylon:
Listen to it sung by Don Maclean
or in Godspell
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
How sad this is! But, as I mentioned above, sadness (sometimes with strong anger) is only part of the story of the Psalms.
In fact, 28 times in the Psalms “happiness,” and God’s passion for our happiness, is mentioned. Surprisingly to some, God’s passion for our happiness is seen in the very first word of the whole book of Psalms (1:1)
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate both day and night.”
And here’s a sample of “psalm happiness” from elsewhere . .
- Psalm 32:1‑2 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
- Psalm 33:12 Happy is the people whose God is the LORD
- Psalm 34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
- Psalm 41:1 Happy are those who consider the poor;
- Psalm 84:4 Happy are those who live in God’s house, ever singing your praise.
- Psalm 84:5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
- Psalm 106:3 Happy are those who observe justice, who seek right-relatedness at all times.
I have no doubt that Jesus, who also knew the mixed emotions of deep sadness and great joy, has Psalms like these in mind when he taught what we call “the Beatitudes” in the Sermon on the Mount (his central teaching found in Matthew 5-7).
This connection between Jesus and the Psalms in the Beatitudes is often obscured by the translation of the Greek word for happiness (makarios) as “blessed” rather than “happy” – but J.B. Philipps gets it right when he paraphrases the Beatitudes like this:
“How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!
“How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! “Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!
“Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!
“Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!
“Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!
“Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons of God!
“Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!
“And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way.
Join me in worship this Sunday (and on the new patio for refreshments after worship) as we begin a new series of sermons focusing on Jesus’ Beatitudes, and as we seek the kind of “Psalm-like Jesus-happiness” that will help us not merely survive, but thrive, no matter what the mixed emotions and experiences of life that God calls us to face.
Glad to be your pastor,