The Dancing Puritan

Friday, May 17, 2013

Commending and Commanding Joy

There are at least two errors concerning joy that one might weave into. There is the strong temptation to seek joy in all of the wrong places. There is also the perceived virtue of ignoring joy and gritting one's teeth and surviving life. In the first temptation expectation is placed on people, things and philosophies that cannot meet the demand for joy. The second temptation is driven more by a pride that is always suspicious of the smile.

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, understood both temptations.  He had looked for joy and withheld no good thing from himself. At his disposal were almost unlimited riches, the best food and drink, beautiful women, great power and awe-inspiring wisdom. He tried to suck all of the joy that he could from those and other things. His conclusion--they were all empty. He despaired of life.

He also points out the emptiness of not being able to enjoy one's life. He called this "a grievous evil" (6:1-3).

At the end of the day Solomon commends joy. This joy is characterized by a merry heart and a radiant countenance.

...A man's wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed (8:1).

And I commend joy for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun (15).

Those who look to him (the LORD) are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 34:5).

Joy is a strong witness to our faith in God. It tells the world that God is great and that He is good. It says that God is not a cosmic killjoy but that he delights to give good gifts to his children (Romans 8:32).

Solomon commands joy. This sounds strange to us. We tend to think of joy as a spontaneous physical reaction to good circumstances. If the children obey the first time then we are joyful. If nothing breaks, no one interrupts our carefully thought out schedule and pleasant experiences walk through our front door then we are joyful. Joy, however, is not based on circumstances (see Philippians chapter four).

Yes, Solomon not only commends but he also commands joy.

Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because this is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:1-10).

Joy is commended and commanded and testifies to our faith. The joyful heart, the radiant face, the cheerful countenance commends the one who has given us all things to enjoy (I Timothy 6:17).

I am suspicious of the raging fundamentalist who seems afraid of joy. He is always reminding others of rules, laws and regulations which, he imagines, will help them to obey God's law. I am also suspicious of the floating antinomian who, like a helium filled balloon, simply flies in the wind and hopes to find real joy in a "no-strings-attached" freedom.

I am not concerned that I might have too much joy. My fear is that I am not joyful enough or that I will look for joy in all the wrong places. When one is joyful in the Lord then he can eat, drink and enjoy his wife to the glory of God.

Do you want to commend the goodness of God and be a powerful witness of Christ?  Rejoice!  C.S. Lewis wrote, one is ultimately able to 'suppress' an author who is 'obstinately pleasurable.' (Alister McGrath on C.S. Lewis).

Will anyone ultimately be able to suppress a Christian who is obstinately pleasurable? You will never know unless you hear the commendation and obey the command to rejoice in the Lord.