Joy in God: Mental State, Spontaneous Emotion, Both?

Experience inclines us to believe that joy is an emotion that is spontaneous in its appearance. Scripture teaches us otherwise.

Psa. 90:14 David prays “O satisfy [שׂבע] us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Psa. 63:5 My soul is satisfied [שׂבע] as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. (cf. Psa 22:27; 107:8-9)

Both of these texts teach us that satisfaction in God is the root of joy in God. Thanksgiving is its flower; its fruit is praise. As Lewis says, “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. … We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”[1]

Joy in God is the state of being satisfied in God. Such satisfaction in God produces the emotions associated with joy (gladness, happiness, delight[2]) as the mind focuses on how He and His promises are abundantly sufficient for all my needs.

To put it another way, joy in God, its emotional accompaniments, and its physical expressions are the result of seeing, believing, and acting upon the fact that God is more than enough for me.[3]

Joy’s emotions rise as the mind focuses upon and savors the beauty and worth of God, and they fall as the mind’s focus is turned elsewhere, e.g., in work. The emotions of joy are not to be mistaken for joy itself. Otherwise, we end up pursuing our own ephemeral emotions. (So also Lewis).

The habit, cultivated by Bro. Andrew, Frank Laubach, A. W. Tozer, and others, of lifting the mind to focus upon God throughout the day, may be the best way to sustain joy’s emotions. Hebrews 12:2, however, convinces me that emotions need not be present for joy to be present:

Heb. 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus … who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame …

We do not see Jesus experiencing emotions of joy in the Garden of Gethsemane, nor during the trial, nor on the cross. Rather, we see his soul troubled, the shame of nakedness and mockery, the agony of crucifixion, and the feelings of abandonment. Yet, the Hebrew writer tells us that Jesus had his mental gaze firmly fixed upon joy! The anticipation of joy in bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10-13), the joy of sitting down again at the Father’s right hand—it was these joys (and others) that sustained Jesus through the distress of Gethsemane and the pain and shame of Golgotha.

I think it is just such a fixed mental gaze that James has in mind when he tells us to “count it all joy, when you fall into various trials,” because you know that tried faith produces endurance, and enduring faith leads to perfection (Jam. 1:2-4).

[1] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958], 94-95.
[2] Isa. 66:11 parallels delight and satisfaction.
[3] See Jim Berg, God is More Than Enough (Greenville: Journeyforth, 2010).


Jason Baker said…
Good, helpful material! May u experience the emotion of the joy of The Lord today!

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