At the end of every single year we have high hopes and expectations of how the coming new year is going to pan out. Countess people make goals based off of how poor their diet is, how unorganized their home is, and the large amounts of money they spend on breakfast before work every morning. People generally work within the mind frame of self-betterment upon thinking about what is going to take place as they embark upon the coming new year. Is thinking about self-betterment sinful or unhealthy? Biblically speaking, it's not if it is used as a means to glorify God and to better serve our families and communities. Rather than spend time evaluating our goals for the beginning of the year, I would like to spend some time diving into a robustly grand and biblical reality that we often neglect thinking about, due to feeling like the subject of joy relating to suffering is a cumbersome topic.
Is It Joy or Happiness?
This may seem like a moot and unjustified question for many. It's easy to jump to the thought of acknowledging the car we own, the house we live in, the friends we have, and the health that we feel as an example of what we have to be joyous about. As Americans, we have most things at our fingertips. Historically, foreigners have gone through leaps and bounds to be in the United States just so they could experience some of the benefits I have mentioned. People have traveled seas upon seas in order to gain what we have. But can we really say with full confidence that comfort driven prosperity has actually given us a true experience of what joy is? Happiness maybe? Sure. I'll be happy if our family gets a new dog tomorrow (it would have to be a male, because I'm officially outnumbered by females in our home). I'll be happy if I get the expensive top of the line vehicle I've always wanted. Can I be happy if I lose my house tomorrow? Or if the entire world turns against the Church and my family as well as myself are roaming the streets? If we are speaking of that word 'happiness' then the answer must be no. Happiness is a position and emotion that is most fleeting. It disappears with ease when we get in fights over minor things with our spouse or significant other. Happiness disappears when we get pulled over on the highway for driving too fast. Happiness disappears when finances get difficult and we feel lost in making the next step. If happiness is here one second then gone the next, how are we to look at joy, and what exactly is it?
Joy Is Eternal
Since the Word of God should always be our foundation for all things in life, we should look to the Scriptures to understand what true and lasting joy is. The Psalmist declares "I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches" (Psalm 119:4, NAS) in speaking of how great the law of God is. The Apostle Paul affirms that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17, ESV). Peter explains that it is a joy inexpressible when we rejoice in the God in whom we know and who we have yet to see (1 Peter 1:8). When the Bible expounds upon what joy is, it never includes temporary happiness, but always consistent and eternal joy-filled delight in the most high God. Simply put: Joy is eternal because God is joy.
Joy in the Darkness
Joy creates in us a response to the providence of God. Our richest and most worshipful responses to God are in the moments when we acknowledge our complete and utter dependency of Him. It's the moments when we are at a complete loss as to where to turn and where to go when we are in a season of distress when—we forget who the triune God of the universe is. It's the moments where we forget that every moment is orchestrated by God, and everything as well as everyone is owned by God. True joy in God gravitates us towards the pleasure of knowing God when we see horrific events take place in our world. Our gravitation towards God during our times in darkness point to the reality that we are in need of rescuing. Its the very darkness that we are surrounded by that God uses to push us towards complete joy and to the One who pushes back the darkness.
Recently, there was a mass terrorist attack in Manchester, UK at an Ariana Grande performance that was free of charge for any attendee. There were twenty-two confirmed deaths. The nagging question for many is "Who is pushing back the darkness when horrible things happen? How are we to have joy after such a horrific and tragic event takes place?" Out of those twenty-two people that were killed existed daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, co-workers, friends, and perhaps even parents. It almost seems counter-intuitive to rejoice during such an awful and ugly time doesn't it? Here lie people who were only out that night to enjoy a music performance to never return home. Why? Why would God allow such a horrific event to happen? The truth is that we live in a world that has been marred and deconstructed by the effects of the very first sinful act that took place as described in the beginning of the book of Genesis. It is not God who is dead and in need of a resurrection, but it is the people whom reside in His universe.
All of humanity is bent on rebelling against the Creator which all people know exists (Romans 1:18), because we are people who feast upon self-worship. Meaning, we serve pretend and counterfeit gods. The gods that always lead to self-centeredness, destruction, and the twisting of the Imago Dei (God's image) in which we were created in. We are not directly responsible for the terrorist act that occurred, but instead, indirectly responsible for the fall of humanity post-creation in the Garden. C. S. Lewis said, "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." What Lewis is saying is that God governs the sin of humanity to point us to our need of redemption, resurrection, and true joy. Pain is a result of our sin that took beauty and order, then morphed it into disarray and chaos. Yet, there is something about suffering that demands more of us. There is something about suffering that speaks into the heart and the intellect. Suffering demands that we evaluate where we are trying to find our contentment and satisfaction. When our happiness is gone; our riches, comfort, and distractions go out of the picture right along with our temporal happiness.
Jesus Is Pushing Back the Darkness
As a collective, we are firm adherents to the Reformed doctrine of total depravity, not purely because of our Reformed and Protestant theological heritage, but first because we believe that the total depravity of man is clearly outlined in Scripture. There is much evil and depravity surging through the world, but consider this profound thought: Jesus is pushing it back. Sin didn't hold Him in the grave and it doesn't hold His purposes now. He is restraining wickedness. We are wholly and completely deprived of all good apart from the goodness and love of God. Those that are in Christ only do good because of the presence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Those outside of the saving grace of Christ are beneficiaries of God's common grace towards humanity. In His kindness, Jesus is keeping back all of the vile things that are worse than our current tragedies we face every year. He is allowing us to continue having the space to share what He's doing through His church and for His church. Jesus is restraining the darkness so that we may see that joy is Christ Himself and so that we may continue heralding the gospel that tells us so. That's something to rejoice and sing about.
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