The Psalms present to us a struggle for happiness. So does life.
The Psalter begins, it could be said, with full happiness. Psalm 1:1 reads, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked". Blessed may sound at first to some as a purely religious word, something one says when trying to sound spiritual. Others may see blessed as simply a hashtag.
And yet, scholars observe that the word has a more fulsome, present meaning to us, conveyed in the full and wonderful sense of "happy", a genuine happiness in God Himself.
The Psalter begins with happiness.
The struggle of the Psalter is twofold; so too the struggle of life. First, the life of happiness is confronted with the confusing and overwhelming sorrows that invade any sense of delight. By Psalm 3 in the Psalter enemies surround, sleeplessness invades, and death seems near.
And from there, for much of the Psalter, the chorus of happiness is constantly mixed with the notes of sorrow. Is happiness truly attainable in a suffering world?
The second struggle dovetails with the first and in fact logically precedes it: that of human sin. Even Psalm 3 is set in context of David fleeing Absalom, an incident which served as downstream fruit of David's erring ways.
The life of those seeking blessing in the Psalter is sinful, often horrifically and repeatedly so. Psalms 89 and 106 end books 3 and 4 of the Psalter, and both reveal the note of what happens to a sinful people.
"He who walks not in the counsel of wicked" may be happy and blessed, but that is not the people of Israel, or you or me for that matter. Sinful people are left in desperation, in exile.
The life of happiness seems left unrealized.
As the Psalter concludes, though, happiness, blessing, returns. With exuberant joy.
Psalm 146 introduces the "hallelujah chorus" of the Psalter, five Psalms begun and completed with "praise the Lord".
Psalm 146 seems to echo Psalm 1. It refers to man (sons of man) and their failed pursuit of happiness - v3-4. Man's pursuit of happiness is a dead-end street.
So is the struggle for happiness ruined for us? Psalm 146:5: "Blessed [happy] is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God."
Happiness is found. Happiness wins. Where is it found? Men of failed pursuit do not find it; sons of man cannot be trusted to lead you there. But if God is your help and hope, He will bring the happiness, the blessing to you.
Such happiness comes through the discovery of the Psalms' longing. The Psalms long for a human king to lead David's kingdom in full blessedness (see Psalm 72). The Psalms long for the divine king (Psalms 93-99) to be the eternal rock of happy stability in an ever-shifting world. In this kingship is happiness.
And such happiness-bringing kingship has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Not by my strength, but by God's help of me, and thus my hope in Him, I can be truly happy.
Not glibly happy, or giddy, or ignoring the suffering and sin still in my life and the world. But happy in the LORD, because He brings that blessing and happiness to me.
And so the struggle for happiness becomes a struggle for the remembrance of the daily help and hope the Lord provides. The patterns of daily worship, or prayer, of fellowship with believers are reminders of our help and hope. And thus, these patterns are calls to happiness.
The soul each day can be found happy in God. In Christ, we can live in the already of Psalm 146 joy, even in the the not yet of Psalm 3 suffering. Happiness can be found.
Samuel Pierce said it well, "He whose hope is in the Lord his God … he is happy; he cannot be otherwise; he having the God of Jacob for his help; he having his hope fixed on the Lord his God, so far as he lives in the real belief of this, he is truly happy."