A few Bible terms are confusing to those of us schooled in English grammar. It's because the languages of the Scripture, Hebrew, Greek, and a few references in Aramaic, portray distinctions of context. Terms like gladness, joy, delight, blessing, and happy depict very similar human conditions. My Master of Divinity with Languages degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary means that I studied required basic and advanced courses in Hebrew and Greek. Those courses did not, however, give me scholarly credentials in those languages. My understanding of them is rather basic and the distinctions of a word group is little more than my own conservative spiritual bearings, hopefully consistent with the truth of the Bible.
That is to say that the terms aforementioned----gladness, joy, delight, blessing and happiness, among many others---are best understood in terms that set them apart, even in their seeming similarity. In the final analysis, at least in my limited understanding, their resemblance is more what they produce in the human species and not how they are ignited in us. Two foundational biblical realities categorize them---
1. Human emotions.
Emotions are human expressions of our circumstances. You can track mad, sad, glad, had, and even happiness in the circumstantial movement of life. We humans can't always control our circumstances but we all know, in reality, they can surely control us. And, that control can send us in many emotional directions, the highs and lows of life in our broken world. These emotions are not inherently evil or bad. They become menacing when they are the primary drivers of life. The works of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5 by the Apostle Paul include darker emotions that can damage us and the people around us.
2. Spiritual graces.
Spiritual graces are those character traits of Christ that are bestowed by God or grown as the spiritual fruit of our relationship with Christ. When we have the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16, ESV) God gives us what we need for life and Godly living (see 2 Peter 1:3, ESV). That life produces spiritual fruit---love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (see Galatians 5: 22-23, ESV). These are inner spiritual qualities that give us the means to live this life, regardless of our circumstances. They can exist quietly in us, under the surface of circumstances. They can, at the same time, be evident in our lives, more visible outcomes of the inner graces.
Many years ago I heard a phrase that gives me clarity when I'm trying to distinguish between the human emotion of happiness, and the spiritual graces of gladness or joy. Someone spoke these words in a chapel service many years ago---happy happens, joy or gladness abides. Meaning that happiness is the result of what is happening in our lives, while joy or gladness are abiding spiritual graces that give us purpose and meaning, even when things have gone sour around us.
Gladness and joy are Bible expressions of a Hebrew word, simcha, and in the New Testament the Greek word, chara (pronounced kara). Several other Hebrew and Greek words are translated joy or gladness but these are the primary terms expressed in Scripture. For illustrations, make note of these verses---
Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Psalm 100:2, ESV
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has
anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions
Hebrews 1:9, ESV
In my mind, gladness is a bold outer expression of joy. A joyful heart is seen in the gladness of life when serving, worshiping, or honoring God. Joy sustains us in the trials and hardships that are part of life. Gladness is what we see in a joyful believer, the outpouring of that joy. Gladness is living above our circumstances.
And, that's the point. Many of us are overshadowed by the rugged and difficult experiences that attend human mortality. At times we moan and groan as our religious commitments and duties add layers of busyness to our already crowded schedules and pursuits. That inner joy may not always transition to a spirit of gladness. In that way, our witness to an unbelieving world is compromised. Where is the gladness?
That's why the little phrase "happiness happens, joy or gladness abides" registers so profoundly with me these days. The realities of life can certainly reduce our happiness and permit our emotions to control us. But, the joy of the Lord should sustain and guide us, and explode in gladness on everything around us.
Happiness happens. Joy or gladness abides.