What If Unbelievers Aren’t Miserable?

It was probably about seventeen years ago that my mom called me in a panic. She had gotten my “suicide note” and was terrified. When I picked up the phone I was confused at how worked up she seemed to be and wondered why she was so passionately asking where I was and if I was alright.

I was confused because I hadn’t actually left a suicide note. It was a journal entry that I had penned a few months prior. I had photocopied this journal entry to share with a group of students about my past and how Jesus had redeemed me. I wanted them to see my frame of mind before Christ. But I had ignorantly left the master copy on our coffee table at home and my mom thought it was current.

If you know my testimony you’ve heard the many ways that Christ has redeemed me and is continuing to redeem me. (This is a decent summary here). I was absolutely miserable as a lost person. But this isn’t true of every person who doesn’t know Jesus. And if I’m not careful I’ll end up sharing a truncated gospel which is founded in my own personal experience rather the Bible.

Phil Moore says it well:

Most contemporary Gospel preaching assumes that unbelievers are dissatisfied with their lives and that they will respond to Jesus if we show them he is the answer to their unmet needs. If they are lonely, Jesus will be their friend. If they are afraid, he will be their shelter. If they feel guilty, he will be their forgiveness. If they feel empty, he will give their life meaning. The problem with this message is not that it is untrue – the Bible tells us that Jesus really is the answer to all these needs. The problem is that this is only part of the truth. Most unbelievers are not unhappy at all. (The Myth of the Unhappy Pagan)

If the only gospel we know how to share is “Jesus is the answer” we are going to find it rather difficult to share the good news when our neighbor doesn’t have any questions. We’ll have to spend most of our time trying to deflate their tires and make them miserable so that we can show how Jesus is the solution to a problem they didn’t know they had. The Proverbs (and many other places in Scripture) do not present the unbeliever as necessarily miserable, depressed, and grasping to fill an aching void. Instead we read of men “who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil” (Proverbs 2:14). 

This is why so many of those who share the gospel in the New Testament do not start with a person’s psychological emptiness but rather with their guilt before a holy God. Consider how Paul shared the gospel in Acts 17. He didn’t say, “I see that you are very religious and therefore show a heart that is deeply searching to fill a void. Let me tell you how to fill that void.” I think we’ve take a bit too much license in often supplying that last part. Instead he simply told them who God is and explained that they are accountable to Jesus whether they acknowledge it or not and they’d do well to repent and believe in him.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons we do not have a sense of urgency in sharing the gospel with our neighbors is because we don’t really believe they need it…at least not now. They seem to be getting along just fine without Christ—so why should we turn over the apple cart? And so we go about waiting for the wheels to fall off so we can share Christ. We are better equipped to share Christ in loss than we are in luxury. And so we bide our time waiting for the whirlwind to come, then we’ll have a gospel to share.

But what if the gospel isn’t to make happy people happier? Or even to make miserable people moderately happy? What if the gospel isn’t merely a means to meet our unmet needs? What if the good news of the gospel is so much more? What if it’s about being transferred from a kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of light? What if it isn’t about smiles and frowns but instead about life and death? Then I’ve got a gospel to share regardless of your emotional state.

And it’s message is unchanging.

God created you to enjoy God and extend His glory. You’ve rebelled and went about trying to find joy in other things and to extend your own glory. As such, you’ve robbed God of his glory and are guilty before Him. Jesus, God incarnate, perfectly fulfilled our mandate to enjoy God and extend His glory. His perfect record is graciously given to all those who are united to Him in repentance and faith. This means you either have the righteousness of Christ credited to your account or you have no righteousness. This is true whether your life is going amazing or it’s blowing up. Repent and believe in Christ today.

Photo source: here


  1. I’ve considered this subject every time I pass one of those billboards that say, “Jesus Is the Answer.” The answer to what?

    Appealing to people’s supposed misery while evangelizing seems like an attempt to solicit an emotional response. Shouldn’t we trust the Spirit to convict them of the facts (i.e. we are sinners, God is holy, we need a Savior)?

  2. Yes…I agree with this entirely. My life before Christ was not miserable. And if anything, more hard times came AFTER Christ. I love all that you wrote here and I especially love how Paul evangelizes in Acts 17. One of my favorite chapters.

  3. Dear Mike,
    I LOVE this! Thank you for speaking the truth!
    May I suggest a few grammatical corrections? In the second last paragraph, “it’s” should be “its” (it’s possessive, not a contraction for it is). And in the final paragraph, line two, capitalize His.
    As a proofreader, I am unable to turn off my “red pen” mentality!
    God bless!

  4. Thanks for the article. I enjoyed it. Once again I believe it’s the “Law before Grace principle”.

    • What’s the “Law before Grace principle?”

      • Law before grace would be using the Law “as a schoolmaster” to allow the Spirit to do a His work and show a person that they are utterly hopeless and stand condemned before a holy God because of their unrighteousness. That’s the bad news. You cannot have the good news of grace without the bad news.

  5. I had NO problems in my life (apart from the wrath of God of which I was not aware) prior to hearing the Gospel. Afterward, there is not an area untouched by trial, frustration and tears. Nevertheless, I came to the Lord for salvation from sin and every difficulty has been what seemed like a dark providence breaking with blessing upon my head.

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