Thursday, October 28, 2004

Smiling on the Inside? Part 2

Sustaining Joy in a Joyless World

“Is ‘joy in Christ’ naïve in a world where there are so many problems, issues, sins?” The question came in an email from a friend of mine who is confronted nearly every day with some of life’s most agonizing struggles.

In the previous post I argue that our answer must not deal with the question superficially by separating joy and happiness so we can then say, “Well, we can be joyful on the inside even though the problems in our world make us sad outwardly.” I believe joy and happiness are, biblically and practically, virtually the same. Their connotations are slightly different, but they are too similar for us to distinguish between them in our own heart. We’re either happy AND joyful, or we’re not. We can’t be joyful but not happy.

So how do we sustain true joy in a world filled with incredible pain? I think the answer is in how we see. Sustaining joy in a joyless world requires a certain kind of seeing… eyes that behold things that others might not… a panoramic perspective that beholds the entire tapestry—dark threads of pain in their complementary place alongside the brighter colors of pleasure. In short, we need the “eyes of eternity.”

We need eyes like John Newton, who sees our present suffering in light of our future glory: "Suppose a man was going to York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, ‘My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!’" (Works, volume 1)

Or we need eyes like Peter, who writes: “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pt 4:13).

In other words, we find and sustain joy in a joyless world by seeing all the horrible pain in light of heaven. Our full redemption is coming! The cross conquered sin and pain and death and suffering! The decisive blow has already fallen. Though the world we live in still groans in agony (Rom 8:19-21), it knows that someday soon the triumph Jesus won at the cross will be ours to enjoy in its full pleasure and delight forever and ever.

We need eyes to see the world and all its pain like this! When we see life this way, our joy will be strong and enduring and real. This perspective will preserve us from a shallow, chipper triteness that masquerades as the real “joy of Christ.” Only this way of looking at the world will allow us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15), because only this perspective doesn’t see someone else’s pain as a threat to my own joy. After all, my happiness comes from heaven, not from a pain-free life on earth. Only when we see the world like this will we “go to [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb 12:13-14).

No comments: