Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Happy God

What is your picture of God?
Many people "see" him as an old man with a stern, unhappy face framed by grey hair and a long white beard.
Many of God's Old Covenant people considered him to be angry, unable to be pleased and judgmental.

Even Christians, who know that he loves them so much that he gave his son to die for them, often see God as one who is sitting waiting for them to do something wrong so he can pounce on them and squeeze a confession out of them before it is too late and he has to exclude them from their inheritance.
What a sad state of affairs!

Those of us who know God's plan to save the world through Jesus usually see God much better than that.
We see him as loving, kind, merciful to all, showering mankind with his amazingly, generous grace.

But let's go a bit further.
Have you noticed the difference in translation of the Beatitudes (recorded in Matthew 5) in different versions of the Bible?
The familiar "Blessed are ..... " statements are often replaced by "Happy are ..... " statements.
Let's consider both these translations.

"Blessed" means for one person to be given a compliment or a good recommendation or praise by another - "I was blessed by what he said."
So the "Blessed are ..... " translations are saying that the categories of people mentioned are praised by God, they are commended by him.
For example, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" means "Praised (or, to be praised) are the poor in spirit."

"Happy" means more like "having joyousness springing from within" - I felt so happy when I heard that.
So the "Happy are ..... " translations are saying that the various groups of people mentioned have joy welling up within them, they are (inwardly) joyous or content.
For example, "Happy are the meek" means "Inwardly joyous or content are the meek."

Now which translation option (blessed or happy) is to be preferred?
Clearly both are acceptable as we don't know which of those two meanings Jesus had in mind when he made these statements.
And because I don't know which he had in mind, I'll make my own choice.
I like "happy" better.  Blessed is a bit ethereal or nebulous for me, while happy is more earthy and real.

In any case, if you want to say blessed or commended, the Greeks have a separate word for saying it than the one used in the Beatitudes.
It is "eulogeo," which means to say-well of some one or thing, and looks very much like our English word "eulogise" which means to highly praise someone.
In the Beatitudes, however, "blessed" is a translation of the Greek word "makarion."
And "makarion" conveys the idea of happiness (inward joyfulness), as well as being fortunate or well off.

So I would prefer to leave all the blessing to "eulogeo" and all the happiness to "makarion."

One of the benefits of making this translation choice is found in 1 Timothy 1 : 11.
..... according to the Good News of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

Now if we replace "blessed" by "happy," as do at least two literal translations I own, we have Paul telling us that what was committed to his trust was the good news of the glory of the happy God.
The good news which Paul was preaching came from the happy God - that's good news in itself.

That's a better picture than most people have of him - and picturing the happy God is easier for me to do than trying to picture the blessed God.
Seems more real in some way.
What do you think?
Are you worshipping and serving the happy God who has this wonderful plan of reconciliation for the whole world, and has called you to be a minister of it?

Blessings, Barry

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