Spiritual Growth

What Kills Our Happiness?

Idolatry isn’t just wrong—it fails miserably in bringing the lasting happiness it promises.

Excerpted from Does God Want Us to Be Happy? by Randy Alcorn 

The happy life is to worship God as God—not putting anything or anyone else in his place. But in this fallen world, we can’t simply affirm God as the source of happiness without dealing with the competition.

Idols Claim to Offer Happiness

Potential idols can be legitimate sources of happiness when enjoyed in their proper place. However, they become contaminated when we elevate them above the only true God. In other words, happiness becomes idolatrous when we try to find happiness apart from our Creator and Redeemer.

In the first two chapters of Genesis, God had no competition for the affection of his creatures. Humanity found its meaning, purpose, and happiness in God. God was God; everything else wasn’t. And the only two humans knew it.

The Fall tragically changed that. Ever since, every member of the human race has been an idolater. What began in Eden won’t end until Jesus returns and all idols crumble under his feet.

We Look for Happiness in All the Wrong Places

Despite the fact that we’re surrounded by shows such as American Idol and the adulation of movie stars, musicians, and professional athletes, most twenty-first-century Americans don’t believe we’re a nation of idol worshipers. The word idol conjures up images of primitive people offering sacrifices to crude carved images. Surely we’re above that.

Or are we?

An idol is anything we praise, celebrate, fixate on, and look to for help that’s not the true God. That covers a lot of ground.

What are some of the idols people worship in our culture today? This list might surprise you:

loving family relationships

supportive friendships

intellectual advancement, education, and learning

reputation, popularity, and fame

meaningful work

serving others

self-expression (artistic, musical, literary, etc.)

leisure, hobbies, and entertainment


politics, power, influence, and success

leaving a legacy

faith, spirituality, religion, and philosophy

health and fitness

beauty and youthfulness


food and drink



In Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes,

Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. . . . We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.

Idols often trap us not with obvious evils but by twisting what’s good.

C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) portrayed this conversation between two demons talking about God:

He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore.” Ugh! . . . There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.

Lewis pointed out a great irony, one we shouldn’t miss: since the devil can’t create, he has only God’s good creation to use as temptations. Hence, he must twist what God made in order to serve his evil purposes. He never acts for our good, since he hates us just as he hates God, who made us in his likeness.

When the fulfillment of a desire is seen as a gift and is gratefully enjoyed for God’s glory, we find satisfying happiness. When it’s not, we become miserable, enslaved to the very thing that was intended by God as a loving gift.

Idolatry isn’t just wrong—it fails miserably in bringing the lasting happiness it promises.

What Should We Do with Our Idols?

We must remove from the throne of our hearts every false god, both for God’s glory and our good.

Scripture speaks strongly about the sin of idolatry: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1, nkjv).

God calls us to ruthlessly dethrone false gods: “This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire” (Deuteronomy 7:5, niv).

John Piper says, “We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in.”3 The one way to avoid idolatry is to take the most pleasure in the one true God.

As Christ-followers, we shouldn’t be more tolerant of our idols than God was of Israel’s. Once we recognize those idols, we can destroy them, exalting God alone. Only then can we know lasting happiness, for all lesser pleasures are only shadows of the real thing.

Does God Want Us to Be Happy? by Randy Alcorn

What if we were wired for happiness?
If you were to ask a room full of people about how God wants us to live, you’d likely get a wide range of answers.

Some people would say he wants us to be holy. Others might claim he wants us to love people and stand up for peace and justice. But chances are, you wouldn’t hear anyone say, “God wants us to be happy.” We all want to be happy, but we may feel guilty for this longing. Isn’t it selfish to pursue happiness? Isn’t it more spiritual to frown than to smile?

In a world full of brokenness, is happiness a worthy pursuit? For those seeking to follow Jesus, should this quest be written off as superficial and unspiritual?

In Does God Want Us to Be Happy?New York Times bestselling author Randy Alcorn offers a collection of short, easy readings on one of life’s biggest questions. As he explores what happiness is and how we attain it, Alcorn provides wisdom, insight, and scriptural proof that God not only wants us to be happy—he commands it!

(Adapted from the trade book Happiness.)

Learn More HERE >> 

Leela is the Media and Marketing Project Coordinator at Tyndale House Publishers. She was raised in Kansas City and has called Chicago home for the past five years. Leela works on the team to help coordinate advertising and media traffic. In her free time, she enjoys coffee shops, running and traveling with her husband.

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