We have come into the habit of making the distinction between the joy of the world and the joy of a life with God by saying God gives us joy and the world gives us happiness. The concept is reasonable but the danger is that thinking like that isolates God and puts Him into a box, which limits our ability to experience His joy. Think of Joy as the sensation of being delighted and happy from any possible source without giving the word to much meaning.
With this in mind what in this life gives us joy?
Is it People, Possessions, Achievement etc.?
The answer is a lot of things. There are many great and perfectly acceptable things in this life to be joyful about. Often that joy can be extremely uplifting, go to a football stadium and watch what happens when a crucial goal is scored. The joy is overwhelming, its contagious it spreads quicker and more intensely than even a virus. What is interesting in our joy is the natural instinct to share it with others (even complete strangers). But its even more than that, through sharing in joy the pleasure is actually amplified, just think how you behave to watching that match winning goal when alone compared to when surrounded by friends.
Is there ever a problem with the joy gained from the world?
It is temporary yes. But more importantly it does not always come and so if you hold out for it as your source of joy than when it fails you it leaves you with sorrow. People who rely on the joy of the world too heavily struggle to cope when things go wrong. Hence they are consumed by that great enemy of the human soul (and weapon of the devil)…hopelessness. When the world offers you only sorrow and you feel like there is no other source of hope and joy that’s when you fall apart.
We conclude every reading of the catholic epistle with: “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. The world shall pass away and all its desires, but he who does the will of God shall abide forever”
What then is Joy from God?
Joy is listed in the Fruits of the Spirit, so what is extra or different about Joy received directly from God?
To fully appreciate it requires us to personally experience it. When we do we realise that it is an incredible gift, for it is a taster of the life to come after this one. Gods loves for us mixed with His desire to share His Kingdom with us spills over into our life on earth now. He has prepared a great place for us; He wants to share His joy and Kingdom. He wants to live with us hence He tells us He is with us everywhere we go. He not only wants to live with us, but also live in us. Thus the Holy Spirit dwells in us. No other being is that closely connected to God. So in His eagerness to see us happy and with Him in Heaven He gives us little tasters. When we get close to Him He shows us just a fraction of how much He loves us, He fills us with a heavenly peace that is a glimpse of complete heavenly peace. And He shows a little of the joy we will receive when we die.
It is an incentive to draw closer to Him to build that relationship. Otherwise God would not give it, if we did not see it and it makes us strive to please Him than He would not offer it. Hence we can read the uplifting verse in Matthew when the master says: “Well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of the Lord”
Once experienced the joy of the Lord stays with you even if it was a one off experience the memory of it is enough to keep you feeling joyful. Hence St. John of Kronstadt can say: “Oh, what great happiness and bliss, what exaltation it is to address oneself to the Eternal Father. Always, without fail, value this joy which has been accorded to you by God's infinite grace and do not forget it during your prayers; God, the angels and God's holy men listen to you”.
What makes this Joy even more remarkable is that it can also be shared. We are all capable of sharing in each other’s joy and we get a tremendous amount of joy from our friends and family. Just seeing someone we love happy is enough for us to feel joyful. When the source of the joy being shared is the common love for God it becomes unbreakable. Hopelessness is dispelled and the devil cannot enter into such a community regardless of the worldly struggle and torment of that community. There are at least 4 mentions of St. Paul being joyful because of someone else. For example: “Therefore we have been comforted in your comfort. And we rejoiced exceedingly more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” 2 Corinthians 7:13.
Another remarkable feature of Joy from God especially a shared Joy from God is that it becomes contagious - but in a life changing way. We all know those people that live in the Joy of the Lord, what they do to a room when they enter. This is one of the most powerful tools for drawing others to the faith. Thinking back to that joy in the football stadium, yes its electric and contagious but it is temporary and it is certainly not life changing. Whereas the Joy of the Holy Spirit as experienced through someone living it can completely transform your life. How else could St Peter convert 3000 people in one day, that is just one speech and they abandoned there entire upbringing, ideologies habits, every aspect of those peoples lives changed. That is real power considering how resistant some people can be to changing their regular cereal brand.
Now we know the joy of the world is temporary, so we must pause and meditate on the permanence of the joy of Our Lord. All that satisfaction that sense of fulfilment and peace not only will it continue beyond the grave but it will be amplified as well. But much more important than this is our contribution to this Heavenly Joy for we also have the ability to create joy in heaven through our repentance “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance”(Luke 15:7). We add to the Joy in Heaven through our own repentance but it also means we have a tremendous duty to encourage each other to repentance and righteous living as well for every saved sinner is such a source of joy in Heaven.
"Do not confuse man -this image of God - with the evil which is in him, because evil is only his accidental misfortune, a sickness, a devil's dream; but man's essence - the image of God - is always there"
"Oh, how disgusted I am by this devilish malicious joy over the sins of one neighbour! People cast a slur on someone's whole life because of one sin that he has committed. They forget that love extenuates everything. A Christian must truly wish for himself and others, that God's name should be constantly glorified in both himself and others, that all should become Temples of God". St. John of Kronstadt
This leads to the practicalities of attaining this fruit of the spirit and maintaining it. For the secret therefore lies in living a life of repentance and righteousness:
“The Holy Spirit often visits us; but if He does not find rest how can He remain? He departs. Joy is in the hearts of those who are cleansed and who are able to maintain within themselves the grace of the Holy Spirit of the All-holy Trinity. There is no greater joy and happiness for man. I am not able to describe to you how one feels then” Elder Ieronymos of Aegina
Understanding the balance of Joy and Suffering
Even if we live completely blameless lives is it still possible in this life to constantly feel the Joy of the Lord? Elder Ieronymos of Agenia comments on this: “Also sometimes the devil or the world will try and steal your joy. This is again avoidable in that it is a battle. “ The evil one cannot comprehend the joy we receive from the spiritual life; for this reason he is jealous of us, he envies us and sets traps for us, and we become grieved and fall. We must struggle, because without struggles we do not obtain virtues.” This is an important thought because if without the struggle and suffering we would not have the motivation to seek that perfect life and strive to be Christ like. So it is important to realize that in the same sentence that Joy is mentioned as a Fruit of Gods Spirit so also is Longsuffering. We will leave longsuffering for another article but just to give perspective if we look at all the Bible there are 65 mentions of joy in New Testament. But there is also 19 mentions of sorrow, 10 of those then refer to it being turned to joy eventually, the remaining 9 are described as improper (or sinful) types of sorrow.
For example in Jesus’ reaction towards Lazarus He “groaned in the Spirit” when He saw the widow of Nain He “wept”. On the day of His crucifixion He did not show anything resembling joy. In fact St. Paul reminds us that Christ had joy in the plan but first suffered: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
An important message in Jesus’ teaching come in these verses: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup” Matthew 20:20-23. This is important because the cup we drink from is the life God offers us. It will have moments of joy but also suffering. The two cannot be separated like you can’t just have the grape and water separate. It is all intermingled into one life!
In fact Jesus never ever lulls us into thinking that we will not suffer. He warns us clear as day: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” John 16:20
St. Paul. He had the joy of God very close to His heart and as a result was so happy while in prison that He used that time to show us there was a joy to gain from God exclusively. But was he ever sorrowful? “That I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart” Romans 9:2 He was so sorrowful whenever he thought of the Jews that rejected Christ.
We wont go into the many vast gains there are to feeling sorrow in this world. That is a topic on its own looking at the emotional, physical and spiritual growth that occurs during this time. It humbles you. It bonds you to Christ in a deep way. Without it you cant feel the suffering of others and your charity is incomplete.
How to respond to sorrow is also another topic and it’s all about acceptance and not being a victim. Its about showing God you have faith in His promise that joy will come and all sorrow must end.
The Joy of the Holy Spirit does not compare to the Joy of the world, and it is available freely to all who seek a life of repentance and strive to live a life in Christ. When sadness enters our life we must closely examine our lives for without diligence and spiritual discipline we can quickly loose hope and forget that all sadness is temporary and Joy will always follow.