Category Archives: Joy
Today on the DG blog I posted some thoughts on the link between faith and joy. Joy in God evaporates when our trust in God grows cold, was my main point. Emails and Tweets are coming in from readers wanting to know more about how to identify false securities (idols) in their own hearts. And perhaps the best list of categories comes from Timothy Keller’s book The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, Study Guide (Zondervan, 2010), and especially what he writes on page 40:
Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is “Because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self-understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart.”
After explaining the idolatry theme more closely from Romans 1:18–25, Galatians 4:8–9, and 1 John 5:21, Keller lists particular categories for personal reflection. The idol categories include the following:
“Life only has meaning/I only have worth if…
- I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
- I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
- I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
- I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
- people are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
- someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
- I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
- I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
- I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
- I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
- I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
- this one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
- I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
- my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
- a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
- my children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
- Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
- I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
- my political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
- I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)
Then he looks more closely at the first four categories:
If you seek POWER (success, winning, influence)…
- Your greatest nightmare: Humiliation
- People around you often feel: Used
- Your problem emotion: Anger
If you seek APPROVAL (affirmation, love, relationships)…
- Your greatest nightmare: Rejection
- People around you often feel: Smothered
- Your problem emotion: Cowardice
If you seek COMFORT (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)…
- Your greatest nightmare: Stress, demands
- People around you often feel: Neglected
- Your problem emotion: Boredom
If you seek CONTROL (self-discipline, certainty, standards)…
- Your greatest nightmare: Uncertainty
- People around you often feel: Condemned
- Your problem emotion: Worry
Wow, that is quite convicting. All of these false securities erode our trust in God, and when our trust in God is gone our joy evaporates and we are left with dehydrated souls. The response is to turn to Christ, and there to find all the security we need eternally and for our daily bread today.
From Puritan Richard Baxter, Practical Works (London, 1830), 2:420-21:
Penitent sorrow is only a purge to cast out those corruptions which hinder you from relishing your spiritual delights. Use it therefore as physic [medicine], only when there is need; and not for itself, but only to this end; and turn it not into your ordinary food. Delight in God is the health of your souls. … So take up no sorrow against your delight in God, or instead of it, but for it, and so much as promoteth it.
HT: Burk Parsons
From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon preached on July 20, 1930, and later translated and published in his Works (10:575):
Rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16). Are we to rejoice in the manner of that crowd of people we see searching for “gaiety” each evening in the great streets of Berlin? Certainly not; they are like moths that dance and flutter around the light at night until it burns them up. Christian joyfulness has nothing to do with such gaiety. Nor does Christian joyfulness have anything to do with some pleasant diversion after a gray workday. Everything we generally call joyfulness, even joyfulness that is not entirely illegitimate, is prompted by things that are transitory like everything else in the world, things that in their very transience take our joyfulness away from us when they pass away, leaving behind only melancholy recollection.
Where is all that joyfulness that our personal or professional life has brought us in pleasant hours? Irrevocably gone. Forget the past; beautiful as it may have been, it can never return again the way it was.
Today’s text, however, speaks about a happiness that abides, one that lasts a lifetime, one that does not dissipate when those happy times are over, one that endures because it has its foundation where there is no more growth or decline, namely, in the fatherly heart of God. Here you find anything but wild boisterousness and desire, which, after all, are merely the anxious grasping for things in this transitory world. Here we stand as whole persons before God the Father; our hearts are filled with a happiness never known before, a happiness that seeks to seize and change our lives from within. This joyfulness has only one enemy, namely, the care and sorrow that subjugate people to this world and make them fearful. A person should be joyful, not fearful, since above all that happens there is a heaven, an eternity, a Father.
But with my tormented, heavy heart, where does my joyfulness come from, where do I find it?
Go outside and see how children play and rejoice and are happy; see how the birds of the field fly high up to heaven and are joyous in the sun. Watch them, and then watch them again and again, and then rejoice with them, become like them, like a child that is joyous in its father’s garden. Above all, however, turn to him who loved the children and birds and flowers and who himself was a joyous child of his Father and who has become your redeemer: to Jesus Christ. In him the Father himself encounters you; in him God comes close to you, and in him one thus finds the foundation and source of all joyfulness. Rejoicing means enjoying God’s nearness in Christ Jesus.
So often in Scripture the presence of joy comes along with the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52; 1 Thess 1:6; Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17; 15:13). Jonathan Edwards picks up and develops this link between the Spirit and joy all over in his works, particularly when he writes on the Trinity, heaven, and on the religious affections.
The link between the indwelling of the Spirit and our joy is especially noteworthy in an except like this one taken from his Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (Yale 21:190):
What Christ purchased for us, was that we might have communion with God in his good, which consists in partaking of or having communion of the Holy Ghost. All the blessedness of the redeemed consists in partaking of the fullness of Christ, their head and Redeemer, which, I have observed, consists in partaking of the Spirit that is given him not by measure. This is the vital sap, which the branches derive from the true vine; this is the holy oil poured on the head, that goes down to the members.
Christ purchased for us that we should enjoy the love, but the love of God flows out in the proceeding of the Spirit; and he purchased for them that the love and joy of God should dwell in them, which is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The sum of all spiritual good which the saints have in this world, is that spring of living water within them which we read of, John 4:10–14; and those rivers of living waters flowing from within them which we read of, John 7:38–39, which we are there told is the Holy Spirit.
And the sum of all happiness in the other world, is that river of living waters which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, which is the river of God’s pleasure and is the Holy Spirit; which is often compared in Scripture to water, to the rain and dew, and rivers and floods of waters (Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 32:15, Isaiah 35:6–7, Isaiah 41:17–18 compared with John 4:14, and Isaiah 43:19–20).
Notice a few key points drawn together by Edwards:
- Our joy is expensive, and the high cost is purchased for us at the cross.
- The Spirit’s joy is Christ’s joy first, shared with us by virtue of our union with Christ.
- The indwelling presence of the Spirit is the origin of spiritual joy in our lives.
- And perhaps most interesting to me, joy — both our joy today and our joy eternal — are both deeply embedded in our union to Christ and in the purchased permanency of the Spirit’s indwelling in our lives now and forever. Which is why for Edwards there are such strong ties of continuity to be discovered between our present experience of joy in this world (no matter how disrupted and faulty and fallen), and our perfected joy that will be fully revealed in the next world.
Here’s a fine 135-word introduction to Christian Hedonism from the new children’s devotional by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Zonderkidz, 2012), pages 52–53:
God tells us to glorify him. “Glorify” means “to make a big deal of.” When someone makes a big deal of you, it fills up your heart with joy.
But why does God need us to make a big deal of him? Why does he need us to get joy?
He doesn’t. In the beginning God the Father and Jesus, his Son, together with the Holy Spirit, were already there — a loving family, glorifying each other in this wonderful Dance of Joy.
No. God didn’t create us so he could get joy — he already had it.
He created us so he could share it.
He knows it’s the thing your heart most needs to be happy. When God says, “Glorify me!”, he’s really saying, “Be filled with Joy!”
He’s inviting us into his Forever Happiness.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), 767:
. . . Gandalf did not look at Pippin or speak a word to him as they went. Their guide brought them from the doors of the hall, and then led them across the Court of the Fountain into a lane between tall buildings of stone. After several turns they came to a house close to the wall of the citadel upon the north side, not far from the shoulder that linked the hill with the mountain. Within, upon the first floor above the street, up a wide carven stair, he showed them to a fair room, light and airy, with goodly hangings of dull gold sheen unfigured. It was sparely furnished, having but a small table, two chairs and a bench; but at either side there were curtained alcoves and well-clad beds within with vessels and basins for washing. There were three high narrow windows that looked northward over the great curve of Anduin, still shrouded in mists, towards the Emyn Muil and Rauros far away. Pippin had to climb on the bench to look out over the deep stone sill.
‘Are you angry with me, Gandalf?’ he said, as their guide went out and closed the door. ‘I did the best I could.’
‘You did indeed!’ said Gandalf, laughing suddenly; and he came and stood beside Pippin, putting his arm about the hobbit’s shoulders and gazing out of the window.
Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.
First we noticed how Luther connects the present experience of joy in the Christian life with eternal joy in heaven, and that by the gracious acting of the Holy Spirit. He does this at a fundamental level in his theological thinking. The same continuity emerges all over the writings of Jonathan Edwards, most profoundly introduced in his doctrine of the Trinity, but for our purposes here it is a point made particularly well in Religious Affections (Yale ed.), 2:235–236]. Note in this excerpt how closely Edwards ties joy to the indwelling Holy Spirit, and how our joy-experience now in the Christian life is a foretaste of the coming banquet. Or to say it another way, note how the indwelling Spirit becomes the link of continuity between our joy now and our joy eternal:
The inheritance that Christ has purchased for the elect, is the Spirit of God; not in any extraordinary gifts, but in his vital indwelling in the heart, exerting and communicating himself there, in his own proper, holy or divine nature: and this is the sum total of the inheritance that Christ purchased for the elect.
For so are things constituted in the affair of our redemption, that the Father provides the Savior, or purchaser, and the purchase is made of him; and the Son is the purchaser and the price; and the Holy Spirit is the great blessing or inheritance purchased, as is intimated, Galatians 3:13–14, and hence the Spirit is often spoken of as the sum of the blessings promised in the gospel (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4 and ch. 2:38–39, Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13). This inheritance was the grand legacy which Christ left his disciples and church, in his last will and testament (John, chs. 14, and 15, and 16). This is the sum of the blessings of eternal life, which shall be given in heaven. (Compare John 7:37–39 and John 4:14 with Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:1, 17).
‘Tis through the vital communications and indwelling of the Spirit, that the saints have all their light, life, holiness, beauty and joy in heaven: and ’tis through the vital communications and indwelling of the same Spirit, that the saints have all light, life, holiness, beauty and joy on earth; but only communicated in less measure.
And this vital indwelling of the Spirit in the saints, in this less measure and small beginning, is the “earnest of the Spirit” [II Corinthians 1:22], the “earnest of the future inheritance” [Ephesians 1:14], and “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” as the Apostle calls it, Romans 8:23, where, by the firstfruits of the Spirit, the Apostle undoubtedly means the same vital gracious principle, that he speaks of in all the preceding part of the chapter, which he calls Spirit, and sets in opposition to flesh or corruption.
Martin Luther explained the symbolism of his seal in a letter to Lazarus Spengler (July 8, 1530):
Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!
Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.
There is first to be a cross, black and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For if one believes from the heart he will be justified. Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature; that is, the cross does not kill but keeps man alive. For the just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One.
Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace; in a word it places the believer into a white joyful rose; for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives and, therefore, the rose is to be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all the angels.
Such a rose is to be in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy; it is already a part of faith, and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that in heaven such blessedness lasts forever and has no end, and in addition is precious beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.
May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come.
Source: Luther’s Works, vol. 49: Letters II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Fortress, 1999), 358–359.
Writes theologian B. B. Warfield (Works, 7:114):
We are sinners and we know ourselves to be sinners, lost and helpless in ourselves. But we are saved sinners; and it is our salvation which gives the tone to our life, a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of our ill-desert; for it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much, and who, loving, rejoices much.
Adolf Harnack declares that this mood was brought into Christianity by Augustine. Before Augustine the characteristic frame of mind of Christians was the racking unrest of alternating hopes and fears. Augustine, the first of the Evangelicals, created a new piety of assured rest in God our Savior, and the psychological form of this new piety was, as Harnack phrases it, “solaced contrition,” — affliction, for sin, yes, the deepest and most poignant remorse for sin, but not unrelieved remorse, but appeased remorse.
There is no other joy on earth like that of appeased remorse: it is not only in heaven but on earth also that the joy over one sinner that repents surpasses that over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.
C.S. Lewis wrote the following in a corrective letter to his friend, the 78-year-old Don Giovanni Calabria [12/26/51; Letters, 3:152]:
. . . This emboldens me to say to you something that a layman ought scarcely to say to a priest nor a junior to a senior. (On the other hand, out of the mouth of babes; indeed, as once to Balaam, out of the mouth of an ass!) It is this: you write much about your own sins. Beware (permit me, my dearest Father, to say beware) lest humility should pass over into anxiety or sadness. It is bidden us to ‘rejoice and always rejoice.’ Jesus has cancelled the handwriting which was against us. Lift up our hearts!
Permit me, I pray you, these stammerings. You are ever in my prayers and ever will be.