While I was reading Deuteronomy this morning I couldn’t help but notice all the references to joy: Deuteronomy 12:7, 8, 18; 28:47; 33:29. There are more references, but those are sufficient. The rest of the Bible is replete with joy verses and themes, here are a few: 2 Corinthians 1:24; Philippians 1:4, 18, 25; 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
My teaching experience has been that whenever you try and define joy as happiness, the happiness squelchers parachute in and pour cold water on the parade. It seems like they don’t like Christian joy. May it never be! And may we dig down a little and figure out how we can have both.
I was raised with the definition of Christian joy as the inward feeling of goodness or contentment or something nice-like, when on the outside you could be fussy or unhappy or down in the dumps – you could even be generally depressed and still have “Christian joy”. Joy was something you always had even when it didn’t look like it. Hmmmm. That never sat quite right with me. We don’t have to ignore bad stuff and pretend that we are happy, but can’t we be happy and sorrowful at the same time? I think what should be true for the Christina is that we have such an overwhelming happiness in knowing God and the Savior and serving him, that the ups and downs of life do not permanently disable us, or even steal that overwhelming sense of hope and joy and happiness that comes from communion with God. Our happiness quotient is always informing our sorrowful equation. At the end of the day, as an overwhelming rule, we are happy people, we Christians.
Think about this: do you want a generally happy God, who also grieves over sin and disobedience, but knows the future and the past and has everything under His control? Or do you want God to be generally pretty downright seriously grumpy, but inwardly is really happy? I know the theological fine points of the argument are hard to sum up in two short sentences, but I hope you get the point. And don’t think we get to create God in our own image; however, there are some fairly difficult philosophical problems with a god who is Mr. Grump potato. And the Bible presents him as pleased! Read Psalm 135:8 and 115:3 – He does all that He pleases, always, and everything he does pleases him. Jesus is the perfect representation of his nature, and we are to work so that Christ is formed in us, Galatians 4:19. We need to be like him! We are required to be like him.
I understand the text in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” to mean that even though a kind of sorrow is there for all who live on a sinful planet, that over and above and through it all is the victory of Christ. Knowing God, knowing his forgiveness, knowing the sure hope of eternity with him. Knowing that all things work together fo good. All things, even the sorrowful for a time things. Everything will be made new. There will come a time when there is no sorrow at all, Revelation 7:15-17.
When a close friend or family member dies there is a sorrow that rushes in. I remember hearing of my father’s sudden death – sorrow flooded my soul. But there was a joy that, if I can venture to suggest, overwhelmed that sorrow. I have a Saviour. I am anxiously awaiting the time when all sorrow will cease and I can live in that truth now. All things, even death, work together for good. In this I rejoice.