“I don’t have faith in faith or hope in hope. I believe in God, I have faith in His truth.”-Alex Campbell.
(Don’t recognize the author of this quote? That’s because he was one of my best friends in high school and he died last year in a car accident.)
As I thinking about what to write this month, I kept coming back to the idea of joy, and strangely, relative to the above quote from my friend. What do faith, hope and the truth of God have to do with joy? That’s a good question.
In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes in great detail his definition of, his experiences with, and his desire for joy. He capitalizes the word “joy” because it is so central to everything in his life. In this work, he calls joy the experience “of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” And he also asserts that joy is something very distinct from pleasure or happiness. It is often more closely connected with our longings than the things with which we satisfy those longings. He goes on to explain that our longing for something that we expect to bring joy is actually closer to what joy really is than the actual experience we would have if we obtained that which we desired.
As I reflect on my own experience, this definition seems to be quite fitting. Nothing I chase after in this world will ever satisfy. Everything I consume in an attempt to fill my longings ends up leaving a desire for something more. None of the temporary happiness these things bring could truly be described as a genuine sense of joy. To borrow a concept from Blaise Pascal, joy is the vacuum that I keep trying to fill, but nothing in this world is capable of filling it. My desire remains unsatisfied because nothing the world offers will fill it.
Why is this? We see in the first three chapters of Genesis that God establishes a world where man walks in a perfect relationship with Him. It is one where man glorifies Him by reflecting His image (Genesis 1:27), and enjoys Him (Philippians 4:4). God created everything for His glory. God created us to reflect His glory to all of creation. He created and designed our very souls in such a way that when we are walking in these ways, we receive joy! He creates us for a joy that comes only through knowing and reflecting Him.
However, we know that these things are broken when we sin, and sin separates man from God. This was demonstrated by Adam and Eve after they sinned. God kicked them out of the garden. Since our primary problem is our separation from God, we desire to have this longing filled most desperately. This is implied in Romans 5:10 where it tells us that Jesus came to reconcile us to God. So our unsatisfied longings are logically connected to the fact that we are – in our natural state – separated from God. We chase our own ways and we do not seek God.
We instead seek our own glory. We fail to reflect Him properly. And we fail to find our enjoyment in Him. Joy is not something we can experience in our sinfulness and it becomes, at best, an unsatisfied desire without Christ’s complete act of reconciliation.
The reason Jesus tells us in John 15 that He is the vine and we are branches connected to Him is so that our joy may be filled (vs.11). Paul further tells us in Colossians 3:10 that Jesus is restoring the image of our Creator in us.
So we see in God’s plan to redeem the world that He desires our joy. He indeed has designed us to have joy in Him. This is a hard truth to grasp. Why does the God of all the universe care about my joy? Has He not stated that the very reason He created me was to glorify Him? Doesn’t it say in Acts 17 that He is not served by human hands, and is above us and really has no need for us? If these things are true then why does my joy matter? Am I not self-seeking when I pursue these unsatisfied longings that I have?
Understanding the word “glory” more completely can help us come to grips with these concepts. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Hebrew word translated this way in Isaiah 43:7, and other places, means to ascribe weight, splendor or copiousness. To consider something or someone glorious is not merely to think that they are swell, beautiful or nice. It means to view that person in their splendor and to consider it a weighty matter to place a great value on that individual.
So how does this help us understand how we are to relate to God? The Bible begins with the fact that God is in the beginning, and that as the Creator, He is above Creation. No object is greater than its maker. So if God is above the heavens and the earth, if He is the Creator of time, space and matter, then who can compare to His value? The obvious answer is no one. There is nothing more real than God because everything that is real was created by Him. He is the ultimate reality. And if this is the case, then God is supremely valuable. Not only is He supremely valuable, but He is also then supremely enjoyable because He created joy! The fact that we have an unquenchable longing for joy points to the fact that there is something outside of us which is greater than we are. There is a bigger reality; and that reality is God Himself. He has created in us a longing that can only be satisfied in Him. We give Him glory by recognizing His supreme worth, His incomparable value and His unspeakable glory. We honor Him when we humbly recognize that our human efforts to fill the vacuum mentioned earlier are in vain. Only He can fill that desire. He has loved us so much that He fills this desire we have to enjoy Him!
So where do faith, hope and truth meet our pursuit of joy? Faith is the gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), which gives us hope (Romans 8:24) in Jesus Christ, Who in His great love fills us with joy. This is the only way the void we have for joy in our souls can be filled. That is weighty. That is amazing!