“Worldly people pretend to the joy they have not; but godly people conceal the joy they have.” Matthew Henry
Why do some unbelievers seem to be incredibly happy, while some believers seem to be incredibly sad? Matthew Henry’s explanation is that the unbelievers publicize pretend joy, whereas believers privatize real joy.
But why would anyone in the world pretend to be happy?
Partly because happy people are popular people. Most people are sensible enough to run a mile from Mr Misery. That social pressure forces people to put a good face on, to pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.
Others pretend to be happy not so much to deceive others but to deceive themselves. At times, albeit briefly, they see that their past is worthless, their present is meaningless, and their future is hopeless. But to honestly admit such to themselves is too painful, too challenging, too catastrophic. Better put a lid on it, dig a deeper mental hole, and cover such unwelcome thoughts with more layers of artificial happiness.
Then there are unbelievers who want to cover wrong choices in their lives. We know them don’t we? Maybe we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve made bad financial decision, bad vocational decisions, and bad relational decisions, and it’s all blown up in our face. But rather than admit we got it wrong, we’re like bomb survivors with blackened faces and shredded clothes, partying in the rubble of our lives.
Why not give up the pretense and seek real and genuine happiness through Jesus Christ?
But if an unbeliever pretending to be happy is madness, consider the second scenario, an even more ridiculous one – true believers hiding true joy! Why would anyone want to do that?
Some Christians hide happiness because it has strong associations with sinful pleasures. When people walk into a drug- or alcohol-fueled party they see lots of smiles and hear lots of laughter. Saturday Night Live, John Stewart, and other late night comedians have also given laughter a bad name, by linking it with bad language, innuendo, and humiliating mockery. Celebrities cannot risk being seen without their plastic smiles and who wants to be like that.
Others are scared off from public displays of happiness by the shallow superficiality of so much modern Christianity. They see through the fake smiles and emotional manipulation of the TV Evangelists and they want no part of it. “Better people think I’m deep and miserable than shallow and happy.”
Then there’s false piety, the idea that the more more morose, morbid, and mournful you are, the more spiritual you are. Yes, there are Christians who have been blessed with deep spiritual joy but who fight to contain and conceal it because they want to be known as hyper-spiritual. At heart, this is based on a wrong view of God, the idea that God is happiest when we are saddest. It’s also dangerous because science has demonstrated that our facial expressions, bodily posture, and words all combine to impact our emotional states as well.
Do you really want to risk losing spiritual joy just to make others happy with your sadness?
“You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased” (Psalm 4:7).