I once saw a cynical cartoon in which a man is down on bended knee, saying, "I love you, Cindy. Will you marry me for a year or two?" The joke has a sharp edge to it, of course, because it points to a frightening trend in our society. "Till death us do part" is being replaced by "as long as I'm happy."
I'd been counseling a couple for several months when the wife came to see me on her own one day. Although she'd been married for 25 years, she wanted out. Nothing I said could change her determination; she simply was no longer happy in her marriage. She and her husband divorced, and not long after that she turned up at church again—sitting in the pew with her husband's brother. When she came to ask me to officiate at her second wedding, she wasn't too pleased to hear my refusal. She said, "But it says in the Bible that God wants me to be happy!"
Of course, she couldn't point to a specific chapter and verse. The Bible talks about joy, about contentment, but the Bible doesn't lift up happiness as an ultimate goal.
It's not that happiness is such a bad thing. Who doesn't like to feel happy? The Declaration of Independence proclaims "the pursuit of happiness" as one of the great American ideals, and most of us busy ourselves in the relentless pursuit of happiness.
Happiness is what I'd call a "neutral" value. It's not good or evil, but it's a cultural value that can assault Christianity. The woman who deserted her husband assigned such a high priority to personal happiness that it overwhelmed the Christian, biblical value of marital commitment. She valued her own happiness more than she desired to obey God's commands.1