“What is the matter with the world?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked. “Why . . . war and all this unhappiness and turmoil and discord amongst men? . . . There is only one answer to these questions—sin. Nothing else; it is just sin.”
It’s common to blame the world’s suffering and unhappiness on lack of education, opportunity, or resources. If only we knew more or had more, we’d surely be better. No. Our most basic problem is just . . . sin.
Since lasting happiness can’t be found apart from God, sin will never be a source of happiness.
Stephen Charnock wrote, “Though the fall be the cause of all our misery, yet [recognizing] it is the first step to all our happiness.”
Sin must be dealt with directly through awareness, confession, and repentance. Only in forgiveness can we have relational oneness with God and, hence, enduring happiness.
Anyone unaware of his or her guilt before a holy God is in the worst possible condition. What if a person with a burst appendix couldn’t feel pain? He might happily stay home and watch a movie rather than go to the hospital. And then he would die.
Sin kills ultimate happiness.
Puritan and Cambridge University professor William Whitaker (1548–1595) spoke of “sinning away that happiness wherein we were created.” This is a striking description of what Adam and Eve did in Paradise and what many of us do—we sin away happiness.
William Bates said, “The most pernicious effect of sin is the separation of the soul from God; and the restoral of us to happiness, is by reunion with him.”These two premises— that God is the source of all happiness and that sin separates us from God—lead to this conclusion: sin separates us from happiness.
Satan is the enemy of God’s happiness and ours. While he can’t rob God of happiness, he specializes in sabotaging ours, catching us on the baited hook of pleasure. The first hit of a drug, the buzz of alcohol, or the thrill of illicit sex seems so good at the time. But then the very thing that brings us a taste of joy robs us of true and abiding joy. Sin is the ultimate killjoy.
To sin is to break relationship with God. Therefore, sin is the biggest enemy of happiness, and forgiveness its greatest friend. Confession reunites us with the God of happiness.
If we believe that sin is never in our best interests, it will clarify many otherwise hard decisions in which we imagine we must choose between helping people do right and helping them be happy.
For instance, a young woman who believed that abortion takes the life of an innocent child nonetheless told me that because she loved her friend, she was going to drive her to the clinic to get an abortion. She said, “That’s what you do when you love someone, even if you disagree.”
I asked, “If your friend wanted to kill her parents and had a shotgun in hand, would you drive her to her parents’ house?”
“Of course not.”
But other than legality, what’s the difference? It’s never in a mother’s best interest to kill her child—it will ultimately take from her far more happiness than it brings. Too often, in the name of love, we assist people in taking wrong actions which, because they are wrong, will rob them of happiness. We may congratulate ourselves for being “loving,” but what good does our love do them if it encourages their self-destruction?
Because it doesn’t satisfy, sin demands increasing intensity.
Addiction provides a picture of all sin patterns. At first, the happiness it causes seems to outweigh the misery. But eventually the periods of misery increase while the periods of happiness fade. This is called the law of diminishing returns. Life is promised; death is delivered. Every drug, alcohol, and pornography addict is living proof that the next high is less satisfying than the last.
Heroin addicts first take the drug to be happy. In moments of clarity, they despise heroin for what it’s doing to them and despise themselves for yielding to it. Yet memories of brief pleasure overpower their prevailing misery. Longing to escape, they take another hit, hoping this time will bring lasting happiness. It never does.
If insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, sin not only leads to insanity—it is insanity.Regardless of your drug of choice—materialism, cocaine, pornography, power—the nature of any sin is saying, “This time will be different.” Yet it just keeps killing us—in the name of happiness.
Unrighteous lifestyle choices lead to deeper unhappiness.
Historically, our culture’s fashion, film, and music industries—merchants of “happiness”— have been run largely by men. The immoral values promoted by these industries lure young girls into promiscuity, convincing them it’s cool. A girl has casual sex and later feels rejection, loss of respect, and disdain from the boy she believed loved her. The dream turns into a nightmare. But hoping that next time will be different, she has sex with another boy, and another, and another, until her self-respect is completely gone.
For decades, mothers have been promised they can be happy if they “terminate the pregnancy”—the deceiver’s language for “kill your child.” Yet I’ve talked with countless women who, years later, still weep over their abortions. The adverse physical and psychological consequences of abortion are well documented, including higher levels of depression and suicide. Numerous post-abortion support groups exist to help women heal after getting the abortion they were told would bring them happiness.
Our culture also entices people into viewing pornography. The happiness it promises instead delivers shame, loneliness, and devastation and leads to an endless downward spiral of deeper perversion and darkness.
Similarly, some people have bought into the idea that they’ll find happiness in the homosexual lifestyle. But when they surrender to their desires, they typically end up unhappy.
There’s a tragic irony in the positive term gay, which has replaced historically negative terms, such as sodomite, and neutral terms, such as homosexual. No matter how happy gay may sound, these are the facts about the suicide rate among homosexuals:
The risk of suicide among gay and lesbian youth is fourteen times higher than for heterosexual youth.
Between 30 and 45 percent of transgendered people report having attempted suicide.
I didn’t get these statistics from religious conservatives, but from a secular website sympathetic to gay and lesbian issues.  A study that analyzed twenty-five earlier studies regarding sexual orientation and mental health showed that “homosexuals and bisexuals are about 50% more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to suffer from depression and abuse drugs.” 
For many years, it was widely assumed that this much higher level of unhappiness was due to humiliation over others’ disapproval. Though society has become much more accepting of the homosexual lifestyle, unhappiness persists even among those surrounded by affirmation. Gay marriage may be legal, but that doesn’t change its nature or eliminate the harm to those engaging in it.
Likewise, countless heterosexuals’ lives have been destroyed by believing the false promise of happiness in an affair. I know many people who’ve had affairs and have spent the rest of their lives regretting it.
King Solomon could have had any woman he wanted—“the delight of the sons of man” (Ecclesiastes 2:8). But in his countless mistresses he found only emptiness and unhappiness.
Puritan Thomas Vincent said, “Nothing doth hinder men’s happiness here, nothing can deprive them of happiness in the other world, but this evil of evils, sin.”
We fall for Satan’s lies over and over again. But God tells us the truth about what will make us happy. Our ultimate happiness hinges on whom we choose to believe.
Excerpted from Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness. Also available: Does God Want Us to Be Happy?, which offers a collection of short, easy readings on one of life’s biggest questions: in a world full of brokenness, is happiness a worthy pursuit for Christians? It’s perfect for those who would like to consider the central question in Happiness in a shorter form.