We are unique in creation—made in the image and likeness of our Creator. The God who made us and loves us beyond measure offers us incredible hope—a salvation beyond our dreams that actually includes a sharing in his own life.
Yet while we are well aware that God has made us for great things, we must still deal with our own rebelliousness and sinfulness. So let’s begin with an unusual question: Who doesn’t want to be happy? Or maybe we should ask that in a slightly different way: Who among us wants to lead a miserable, banal, unfulfilling life?
Are you thinking long and hard to come up with an answer? Probably not, because the answer couldn’t be more obvious: no one desires to be unhappy. We all understand on a very basic level that it’s simply part of being human to want to be happy. Different people might have very different and even contradictory ideas of what will bring happiness, but that doesn’t change the fact that every single human heart yearns to be happy.
Now let’s expand our thinking about happiness and bring God into the equation. Many people have a distorted image of God. They picture him as some sort of celestial killjoy, or an aloof and distant being, or an eternal clockmaker who wound up creation, set it in motion, and left it at that. The truth is this: God is the happiest of all beings! And his happiness is total and eternal. Nothing can diminish or even perturb his happiness.
Remember, God is love. God brought us into being out of love. But that’s not all. He actually made us in his own image and likeness. Wouldn’t he want a being so made—so loved—to be happy just as he is happy?
Again, you shouldn’t have to think too hard. Of course he would! Here’s an indisputable truth: God made you and me and everyone else to be happy. In fact, he wants you and me and everyone else to be happy far more than we want to be happy. That’s how good God is—infinitely good.
So if God wants us to be happy, why is our world filled with unhappiness? Why do even the most fortunate struggle to find happiness, only to see it slip through their fingers when they think they have located it?
Maybe one of the reasons is that we don’t always know what genuine happiness consists of. We don’t know where to look for it or how to find it, and sometimes (maybe often!) we don’t recognize it when it’s staring us in the face. We’re very good at looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and that means we need a helping hand in our search. Otherwise we’re likely to spend our lives drifting from one failed attempt to find happiness to another.
Clues in Scripture to Finding Happiness
God has given us clues. God never leaves us in the dark. He never fails to give us a powerful series of signposts to follow, and the most important of those signposts are always found in Holy Scripture. So we’re going to turn to Scripture in our search for real happiness, and we’ll take a look at the second creation story in the Book of Genesis, a book of the Bible that’s incredibly rich in symbol, metaphor, mystery, and meaning. It is more a work of poetry rather than a conventional historical narrative.
[T]hen the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:7-9)
God fashions man out of the ground and animates him by breathing his own breath into him. Breath and life were essentially synonymous words to the biblical writers. Not only that, but life and therefore breath were all but synonymous with the soul, the very essence of someone. So this passage can be read as God breathing something of himself—something divine—into the man at the first moment of the man’s existence. This is to show us clearly that God’s human creation is unique and uniquely loved. God treats this creature—you and I—in a very special and intimate way.
Another place in which God breathes on man is more familiar to us and also more significant. It occurs in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. It is Easter morning, but the apostles as yet know nothing of Jesus’ resurrection. Locked in the Upper Room, they are a fearful, demoralized band. Then Jesus, who they know to be dead, is suddenly present. He is alive and really present with them!
Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (20:19-22)
This passage from John’s Gospel becomes another creation story. As God breathed on man to bestow on him life in the Book of Genesis, so Jesus breathes on man to bestow on him a new and abundant life, to begin man’s re-creation and reconciliation with the God against whom he has rebelled.
So this act of God breathing on man is of real importance. We see in it God’s desire for an extreme intimacy between himself and humankind. Think about it: he wants that relationship to be so intimate that his breath is our very life. How much more intimate is it possible to get?
God is not a distant authority figure. He’s more like a mother, who out of love for her child says, “I know the red stove looks really attractive, but don’t put your hand on it, because if you touch the stove, you’ll burn yourself, and that will be very painful.” Of course, the mother’s not saying that she will burn the child because she’s angry he disobeyed her. She’s saying that the stove is dangerous and that the child must understand that and be careful around it. The mother warns the child out of concern and love.
That’s what God does. He says, “I made you; I’m your Father; you’re my child. Trust me. Don’t do that. If you do that, you’ll die, and I don’t want you to die. I did not make you for death.”
And that is the human story. It is played out in the early pages of the Bible, and it repeats itself over and over again throughout those sacred texts, in countless variations. It is also played out in your life and in mine—in fact, in the life of every human being—every day. The good God, the loving Father who made the man and the woman and called them to friendship, stands before each of us at every moment of our lives, asking the same question: Will you trust me?
To say yes and to trust in God is to open oneself to ultimate happiness, to a kind of loving relationship with God that fulfills all our desires and enables us to love and be loved by others.
This is a selection from Rerouting: Finding Our Way Back to God and His Church by Fr. John Riccardo, The Word Among Us Press (2018). Available at www.wau.org/books