Joy is the Thing

Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) ‘at her elbow,’ demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in–I know how one puts it off–and faced Him. But the message was, ‘I want to give you something’ and instantly she entered into joy.–C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

You have put more joy in my heart than others ever knew for all their corn and wine–Psalm 4.7

The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.–Psalm 65.12-13

It is hard not to imagine that when the God-man, Jesus Christ, rose bodily from the dead a mighty shout of joy sprang forth from his human lips as he greeted the dawn.

For many Christians, the way of Christ is one of duty. Often we may be taught, not so much didactically as by example and emphasis, that the goal of the life in Christ is to be nice. A good Christian. It is a given that we are supposed to be eulogized with the words, “She was a good Christian woman.” “He was a good Christian husband and father.” The summit of the Christian life often seems to be: do your devotions, go to church, don’t cuss (too much), don’t cheat on your spouse or your taxes. This is a sad deceit.

What does the Apostle exhort? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4.4) This is hardly of the character of “eat your veggies” Christianity.

This Joy is risky. It is not the sort of hedonism sold by Christian hucksters who seduce us into thinking we can have it all now: the life of the shiny happy people who have nice cars, comfortable homes, above average children who don’t get pregnant out of wedlock or use drugs. We just have to believe it. We just have to really, really want it. This sort of ersatz joy is too easy, too comfortable. This is not how the kingdom of God really works.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.–2 Timothy 3.12

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.–James 1:3-5

No, the Joy that is central is something different: wild, untamed, substantive, satisfying. It is the fire in the heart, the peace that passes understanding, the fruit of the Spirit. From it springs the substance of hope, and that hope is the catalyst of that Joy. This Joy fixes the attention in the present with that seeking gaze which encompasses everything from the sleepy chatter of daughters waking in the morning, to the song of the pre-dawn birds, and that presence of preternatural sanctity, guarding, protecting, behind the translucent veil.

This Joy has a Name, the Name that is above all names. By tucking this Name into our hearts, in the syncopation of their union, we establish Joy as the center of our being, of our every moment of existence. There is no Joy apart from the Name, and all happiness and pleasure are empty apart from this Joy. This Joy is a guide, and it is a protection. It strengthens faith, and sweetens askesis.

This Joy is infinite, and so we may never contain it nor exhaust it. But we may grow, through time and through eternity, to encompass more of it. Such growth, the kinsman of the Lord tells us, is not without testing. It is the testing which softens the heart so it may grow to contain more of this uncontainable Joy. A paradox this: sorrow and struggle increase our capacity for Joy. Double paradox: if he whom the heavens and earth could not contain could deign to be circumscribed by that holy womb, then so too may this infinite Joy fill the finite heart into which is enfolded that Name.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.–John 15.11

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus

One thought on “Joy is the Thing

  1. Beautifully said. I know I’ve had way too many occasions for “not joy” the past couple years like a lot of other people. It is hard to let God prepare the soil of our hearts to bear the fruit of joy.

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