Q. Do all mosaics, paintings, icons, etc. depict Jesus with a sad and miserable face? Because in my book He is always smiling. Happiness is The Lord.
In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel.
He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; he will not respect what his fingers have made, nor the wooden images nor the incense altars.
In that day his strong cities will be as a forsaken bough and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel; and there will be desolation.
[Isaiah 17:7-9 NKJV]
There are two aspects to the question. Firstly, do any man-made images of Jesus portray Him smiling, and secondly, does The Lord embody happiness?
Images of Jesus — particularly ‘old masters’, icons and mosaics — are highly unlikely to show Jesus smiling; it would have been considered disrespectful, even blasphemous to do so. Icons were intended as objects of devotion in churches and come into a specific category of their own.
It was the sculpted or ‘graven’ images which caused a problem — usually because they would be promoting false gods; the works themselves become the object of faith and substitutes for faith in God.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Here any likeness of any thing is mentioned, which pretty much seems to ban image-making altogether. However, I would suggest that this prohibition was related to ‘religious’ works, although there is a case to be made that anything which distracts attention from the relationship with God — any object which invites contemplation — should be put aside. This appears to be what Isaiah is saying in our lead verses. A man ... will not look to the work of his hands.
There are paintings of Jesus smiling, but they seem to be exclusively of recent origin. I found an image online described as “Laughing Wine Jesus”, showing a man clutching a beaker, his head back as if he has just heard a hugely funny remark — more of a ‘my mate Jesus, down the pub’ than anything else.
Ultimately, most of these representations are only Jesus because the artist says so. They add nothing to faith, or to spiritual belief; these pictures are of man and man’s ideas about Jesus, not about who He is — the Son of Almighty God. Even Rembrandt — undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of all time — painted portraits of a man. They are not Jesus.
And this is the point. Jesus Christ appears to each of us individually in a uniquely personal way. Any image of Him at all is bound to fail.
The icons and paintings in churches were designed largely for an illiterate people who would hear the priest and be able to look at the paintings around them and have reminders of their Jesus, and be impressed by the splendour and magnificence of His house and the glory of God.
As for happiness? Jesus is happiness, but more than that; He is joy and peace (both inextricably linked in my view). The New King James Version (NKJV) uses the word ‘happiness’ only once — in Deuteronomy 24:5 — which in the King James Version (KJV) is translated as ‘cheer up’.*
We should distinguish between ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’. Jesus Christ brings joy in the knowing of Him, which will survive and thrive whether we are suffering or filled with happiness. Happiness is emotional and can come and go. Joy — as The Bible has it — is eternal.
* According to Strong’s, the word is śâmaḥ; a primitive root; probably to brighten up, i.e. (figuratively) be (causatively, make) blithe or gleesome: — cheer up, be (make) glad, (have, make) joy(-ful), be (make) merry, (cause to, make to) rejoice.
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart.” It is this state of mind and heart which is absolutely free to do the duty that lies nearest without any flutter.