One of the most powerful and feared Muslim rulers of the Roman era was Abdalrahman. According to the classic book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, there is a monument in his honor that bears this inscription from his own mouth: “I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen. O man! Place not thy confidence in this present world!”
It is hard to imagine that such a wealthy and powerful ruler would say at the end of his life that he only had fourteen total days of happiness. From the outside looking in one might think the life of the rich and famous is all happy all the time, but this shocking confession blows that thought out of the water.
All people have a desire for happiness, and we certainly want more than fourteen days of it over the course of our lifetime. When we are experiencing moments of happiness we hope that it will last forever, but inevitably it ends. A child spending a day at Disney World exclaims, “I don’t ever want this day to end!” But it will end. The vacationers laying on the beach remark that they could stay in that spot forever. But they can’t. While seeking these moments of happiness is good for us, the knowledge that they are temporary—finite minutes on a clock or days on a calendar—makes us yearn for a deeper, more lasting happiness.
As long as we live we should pursue happiness; obviously that should be done within the confines of holiness, for nothing that is unholy can bring true happiness. We serve a happy God, and “the joy of the Lord” should be “our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).” In our moments of unhappiness—be it sadness, mourning, depression, or whatever—we can be reminded that in the next life happiness will be all we know. And even in our moments of fleeting happiness, we can still take comfort in that same fact: in heaven we will always be happy.
The reason we are not always happy now is sin. Before the flood, Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Evil robs the world of happiness. But in the eternal state we could rework Genesis 6:5 to say, “The emotion of man’s heart is only happy continually.”
The person who is happy exclaims that he never wants this moment to end, but it will. However, in heaven we will say, “I don’t ever want this feeling to go away,” and it won’t. Happy Christians reflect a happy God and attract unhappy sinners. We should strive for happiness, but even when we do not feel happy, we can remind ourselves of the eternal bliss that awaits us on the other side. Along with Abdalrahman, we will place not our confidence in this present world. But if our trust is in Jesus, our happiest moments here are but a foretaste of the joy that awaits us.