“Blessed” and “Happy” by Gerald Cowan

     There are many beatitudes in scripture. The best known are the beatitudes of Jesus given in Matthew 5:3-12, though there are others spoken by Him or attributed to Him and several by others inspired by God to deliver them.

     Most standard translations render the word MAKARIOS in the text as blessed, but some are not consistent in so doing. Some of the more modern translations and paraphrases render the word as happy.  This is a shallow, misleading, and inappropriate interpretation (not a proper translation), that cannot be of significant value, especially given the ambiguity of the words happy and happiness in our language. We will say more about that below.

     Perhaps the translator’s choice of words is influenced by the modern philosophy which maintains that happiness is the key to everything and that finding happiness justifies everything.  Some are sure that every person has a “right to life, liberty, and happiness,” or at least the pursuit of happiness.  That concept is not biblical, though it is declared by some Bible-believing persons to be in harmony with the Bible.

     With regard to life, the Lord who gave it and sustains it can also end it. Instead of guaranteed liberty those who are servants are taught to serve well and faithfully.  Everyone can be free from sin by being in Christ, in God.  But nobody can ever be free from God.  Nobody should expect freedom to be, have, or do whatever it takes to make him happy according to his own definition of happiness.

Happiness and Blessedness Are Not the Same

     Our English words happy and happiness come from the root hap, which means chance.  It is not something designed or purposed, but rather an event or situation that just happens.  Happiness is dependent upon chance, luck, and fortune – good things that are the result of blind chance or lucky choices and not of specific planning or volition.

     When whatever happens pleases or benefits the person he can call himself happy.  If it does not, it will be viewed as unhappiness.  Few words in our language are more ambiguous, therefore essentially meaningless, than the word happy. So it is often trivialized: happiness is a full belly, a warm puppy, easy money, ice cream with no calories.  The drug addict might say happiness is a high that never comes down.

     Of course some definitions do not seem trivial.  Happiness is a loving and faithful mate, parents who love you and love each other, friends and neighbors who are willing to help when you need it.  Happiness is peace on earth, with an end to all war.  For the spiritual person, happiness is knowing assuredly that God loves you in spite of everything.  What would you say? “Happiness is ______________” (you fill in the blank).

     If, as already noted, happy is not an appropriate translation of MAKARIOS. Why is blessed a better word to use?  MAKARIOS is an evaluation of character, not of circumstances.  It conveys the idea that one is worthy of praise and commendation, that one deserves to be approved, applauded, and rewarded – and will be.

    In the context we are studying here, the beatitudes of Jesus and others in the New Testament, blessedness is shown to be God’s assessment of the person who possesses the stipulated qualities or characteristics. We can paraphrase and clarify it as follows: the person is praiseworthy.  He is approved and commended by God.  He deserves to be rewarded and believes he will be, because God says he will be.

Happiness Does Not Require Blessedness

     When a person knows he has the approval of God, that he is accepted and will be rewarded by God, he can say, and mean it sincerely, “It is well with my soul. I am blessed, and therefore I am happy.” One who makes Jesus his Lord, thus implementing the beatitudes and other teachings of Christ into his character, enjoys true security and true joy. The righteous one who trusts in the Lord can rejoice; the upright in heart can shout for joy (Psalm 32:10-11).

     If true and abiding happiness were a matter of outward circumstances, the apostle Paul should have been among the most miserable men alive. By accepting Christ he lost worldly wealth, position, power, popularity, and prestige – he was anathema to his own countrymen, the Jews.  But though he often had weariness, pain, poverty, insults, injury, and imprisonment, what he received from Christ was a treasure that made other things seem like refuse or trash by comparison (Philippians 3:8-13).

      In Christ he learned the secret of real contentment as well as true spiritual strength and security (Philippians 4:11-13).  He considered himself blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). He could rejoice and call upon others to rejoice because the supply of God in Christ made all required things possible for him (Phil. 4:13).  Was he happy in his circumstances? Would he not have changed his circumstances if it were possible?  But he was blessed in spite of circumstances.  His contentment was not approval and satisfaction but rather acceptance, trust in God in spite of circumstances and not because of them.

     When Paul said he was happy because he was allowed to speak in his own defense and for the cause of Christ for whose sake he was a prisoner (Acts 26:2 KJV), blessed would be the better translation of MAKARIOS.  The same is true for 1 Peter 3:14 and 4:14 where the KJV translates MAKARIOS as happy when blessed would be more appropriate in the context.

     The blessed provisions of God gives the persecuted the serenity and ability to accept limitations and situations without resentment and to make effective use of whatever one has.  Blessedness and its consequent happiness is not external but internal, relational and not circumstantial.  It is the blessedness of sharing somehow in the nature and glory of the blessed God (2 Peter 1:4).  But, as noted before, it is only for those who are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

The World Needs to See the Blessedness of Christians

     The world is waiting to see the blessedness of Jesus applied and demonstrated by those who wear His name as Christians.  One who knows he is approved, accepted, and blessed by God can be and should be happy.

     One may be happy in some sense without knowing or following Christ, but he is not blessed by God and does not deserve to be.

     If Christians are not experiencing the blessedness of God, perhaps it is because they have not fully yielded to the Lord, and are not applying the principles of His word in their own lives, and therefore do not deserve to be blessed or happy.

     Perhaps, as has been done in other cases (such as baptism and communion), we should transliterate the word MAKARIOS instead of translating it. Instead of saying we are blessed or happy, we could say we are the makarios of God.  Our contentment, security, stability, and rejoicing would probably attract many others to Him who can make them makarios too.