Thursday, June 21, 2007

Joy Unspeakable and Job

I had these thoughts in response to Phillip Dickinson's comments on my May 2006 How to Fight for Joy post.

Have you perhaps had something like the following calico account of two of my experiences?

I received news that a donor had agreed to give approximately $100,000 each year over the next ten years to a fund for the establishment of a seminary here at GBS. I was overjoyed, elated.

My wife comes into my office to inform me that her mother is experiencing excruciating pain and has been taken to the hospital. My wife is in tears. Upon hearing the news from my wife, my sense of joy vanishes or at least dissipates rapidly. I'm distressed and seek to be a comfort to my wife.

Did I lose my joy?

Most certainly not! Upon the first opportunity that my mind had to return to the contemplation of the donor's pledge, my inward rejoicing and delight (aka joy) resumed its singing and simmered over time to a happy hum.

My best short description of joy, at present, is that joy is the emotional result of a mental focus. That's the short version. The extended version is: Christian joy is the emotion of happy satisfaction that results from a mental focus on the persons, promises, and character of our Triune God.

This definition identifies joy as an emotion. My best study of the biblical words for joy has led me to this conclusion, so far. Like almost all emotions, we cannot directly manipulate them. Most emotions are the consequence of a pattern of thinking, that is, they are a consequence of our mental focus. Mental focus is the result of the questions we ask ourselves and the assertions we make to ourselves.

For example, to generate the emotions of confusion, depression, blackness, even despair, repeatedly ask yourself the questions, "Why this? Why me? Why now?" when you encounter some negative circumstance. Oh, and insist upon the answer being empirically verifiable and fully comprehensible by your mind. This is how Job got in the pit.

The fruit of Joy produced by the Spirit is really the Spirit granting us desire and power to choose to focus our minds upon the person and promises of God in Christ. The more we do, and consequently the better we "see" Jesus, the greater our joy.

I think I see in this an analogy to the Spirit fruit, love. Love (for others) is a self-sacrificial commitment to seek their highest good as I seek my own and as Christ sought my good. This fruit is in evidence in our lives when we engage our wills to seek others' good self-sacrificially.

Just as God wants such good-seeking to be the character of our life, so He wants it to be our mental habit, our continuous disposition to focus our minds upon His person and promises that our joy may be full. This is how Job got out of the pit. God presented Job a series of questions that changed his focus from himself to God. Same medicine worked for Elijah.

Solomon reveals that there is a time to weep (Eccl. 3:4). It is not appropriate for a Christian to experience joy as the dominant ascendant emotion at all times. Sorrow, anger, compassion. These emotions were ascendant in our Lord at times, but the foundation of joy was always present: a full knowledge of the person and promises of His Father. All that was needed to bring joy streaming back to the forefront was to focus His mind upon His Father.

Fighting for Joy is fighting to see and understand the person and promises of God in Christ more clearly. The clearer our vision, the greater our joy. The steadier our gazing, the steadier our joy.

Father, grant me to see you in Christ more clearly and to gaze upon you in Christ more steadily that I may glorify you more fully by revelling in the joy that attends such attention.