Accusations of heresy fly around in Christian circles, less so today than in ages past, but they're still there. This week, I mentioned one of them. Today, I will make one of my own.
There is a trend in today's Christianity, ranging from authors trying to write popular books to now even translations of the Bible (which claim to be painstaking works in accuracy), to swap out the word "blessed" in many of its appearances and in its place, put "happy." Last year, I read one such book; this year, I am reading one such translation of the Bible. A newer translation, meant to be written in "conversational English" so that everyone may understand the Scriptures as literally as possible in our own modern language.
What this results in is a plethora of psalms that center on the happy person, rather than the blessed person. "Happy is he who...."
I'm going to say it again: no. Happy and blessed are not interchangeable; they do not mean anything near the same thing. And the God that Christians have known and loved and worshiped for thousands of years has always been a God of blessing.
Happiness is the state of having a positive reaction to your own life. It's something that wells up from inside of you in response to your experience of living. You can be happy all on your own; it doesn't require God. There are plenty of atheists, humanists, and members of other religions who prove this point. They're happy. Or at least, they think they are.
Blessedness, on the other hand, requires the receipt of something. Someone else has to bless you; you can't do it yourself. In our Christian faith, that someone else is God. You cannot be blessed without Him.
Take just one example of how this translation changes things. Psalm 1. "Happy is he who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." Written this way, it implies that you will have a positive experience of life if you keep yourself from listening to wicked advice/suggestions/perspective.
Traditionally, this verse has been translated, "Blessed is he who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." Written this way, it promises that God will reward you if you keep yourself from listening to wicked advice/suggestions/perspective.
Which is more consistent with God's character? Is God's primary concern that you live your best life by being happy doing it...or is He a God who wants to bless you?
This matters. I don't understand how any argument can be made that "happy" is an appropriate translation for so many of these Scriptures, except to say that in a world that preaches a cheap Jesus who loves you and doesn't expect anything from you, perhaps your happiness is this cheap God's primary concern. But that's not a God worthy of worship.
Even if you could show that the original Hebrew had a context of happiness for the root word, you'd have to also confess that happiness meant something different to the Hebrew people than it does to the modern American audience. They had a worldview that centered on God; everything they lived and breathed came from God. Everything originated in Him. So their "happiness" would have been in relishing the love that God poured out on them, not on merely having a positive experience of their lives. But modern English readers don't get that; we have a different worldview. And that makes the use of the word "happy" here misleading. Yes, even heretical. To the reader with no ability to discern the historical understanding - which is most readers - it implies that God cares deeply about you living a happy life.
Honestly, friends, I'd rather be blessed.
So there is heresy in our world, and sadly, when it comes to real heresy, most Christians aren't calling it out. Most are getting on board with it because it poses as a way to bring more into the faith, to open the doors wide so that the masses can come through them. Making God accessible to the modern conscience, making Him enticing to the modern heart. But we lose something essential in the process. Maybe that's why Jesus said the road is narrow.
Don't settle for being happy. Happy is good, it's great. God rejoices when you are happy. But He wants so much more for you. He wants to bless you. And the heart leaps with joy when it is blessed.