An Ocean of Happiness

Thomas Traherne (1636–74), Centuries of Meditations (London: 1927), 146–7:

Varro cites 288 opinions of philosophers concerning happiness: they were so blind in the knowledge of it, and so different in their apprehensions. All which opinions fall in here, as all rivers fall into the sea, and agree together.

Some placed happiness in riches, and some in honor, some in pleasure, and some in the contempt of all riches, honor, and pleasure; some in wisdom and some in firm stability of mind, some in empire and some in love. Some in bare and naked contentment, some in contemplation, and some in action; some in rest and some in sufferings, and some in victory and triumph.

All which occur here, for here is victory and triumph over our lusts, that we might live the life of clear reason, in the fruition of all riches, honors, and pleasures, which are by wisdom to be seen, and by love to be enjoyed in the highest empire, with great content, in solitude alone, in communion with all, by action and contemplation, attaining it by sufferings, and resting in the possession, with perfect victory and triumph over the world and evil men, or sin, death and hell, in spite of all the oppositions of men and devils.

Neither Angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor height nor depth, nor things present nor things to come, being able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Naming False Securities

Today on the DG blog I posted some thoughts on the link between faith and joy. Joy in God evaporates when our trust in God grows cold, was my main point. Emails and Tweets are coming in from readers wanting to know more about how to identify false securities (idols) in their own hearts. And perhaps the best list of categories comes from Timothy Keller’s book The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, Study Guide (Zondervan, 2010), and especially what he writes on page 40:

Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is “Because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self-understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart.”

After explaining the idolatry theme more closely from Romans 1:18–25, Galatians 4:8–9, and 1 John 5:21, Keller lists particular categories for personal reflection. The idol categories include the following:

“Life only has meaning/I only have worth if…

  • I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
  • I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
  • I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
  • people are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
  • someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
  • I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
  • I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
  • I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
  • I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
  • I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
  • this one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
  • I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
  • my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  • a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
  • my children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
  • I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
  • my political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)

Then he looks more closely at the first four categories:

If you seek POWER (success, winning, influence)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Humiliation
  • People around you often feel: Used
  • Your problem emotion: Anger

If you seek APPROVAL (affirmation, love, relationships)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Rejection
  • People around you often feel: Smothered
  • Your problem emotion: Cowardice

If you seek COMFORT (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Stress, demands
  • People around you often feel: Neglected
  • Your problem emotion: Boredom

If you seek CONTROL (self-discipline, certainty, standards)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Uncertainty
  • People around you often feel: Condemned
  • Your problem emotion: Worry

Wow, that is quite convicting. All of these false securities erode our trust in God, and when our trust in God is gone our joy evaporates and we are left with dehydrated souls. The response is to turn to Christ, and there to find all the security we need eternally and for our daily bread today.

And for more information on Keller’s material here, see his workbook and DVD.

Godly Sorrow and Delight in God

From Puritan Richard Baxter, Practical Works (London, 1830), 2:420-21:

Penitent sorrow is only a purge to cast out those corruptions which hinder you from relishing your spiritual delights. Use it therefore as physic [medicine], only when there is need; and not for itself, but only to this end; and turn it not into your ordinary food. Delight in God is the health of your souls. … So take up no sorrow against your delight in God, or instead of it, but for it, and so much as promoteth it.

HT: Burk Parsons

Joy For My Tormented, Heavy Heart

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon preached on July 20, 1930, and later translated and published in his Works (10:575):

Rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16). Are we to rejoice in the manner of that crowd of people we see searching for “gaiety” each evening in the great streets of Berlin? Certainly not; they are like moths that dance and flutter around the light at night until it burns them up. Christian joyfulness has nothing to do with such gaiety. Nor does Christian joyfulness have anything to do with some pleasant diversion after a gray workday. Everything we generally call joyfulness, even joyfulness that is not entirely illegitimate, is prompted by things that are transitory like everything else in the world, things that in their very transience take our joyfulness away from us when they pass away, leaving behind only melancholy recollection.

Where is all that joyfulness that our personal or professional life has brought us in pleasant hours? Irrevocably gone. Forget the past; beautiful as it may have been, it can never return again the way it was.

Today’s text, however, speaks about a happiness that abides, one that lasts a lifetime, one that does not dissipate when those happy times are over, one that endures because it has its foundation where there is no more growth or decline, namely, in the fatherly heart of God. Here you find anything but wild boisterousness and desire, which, after all, are merely the anxious grasping for things in this transitory world. Here we stand as whole persons before God the Father; our hearts are filled with a happiness never known before, a happiness that seeks to seize and change our lives from within. This joyfulness has only one enemy, namely, the care and sorrow that subjugate people to this world and make them fearful. A person should be joyful, not fearful, since above all that happens there is a heaven, an eternity, a Father.

But with my tormented, heavy heart, where does my joyfulness come from, where do I find it?

Go outside and see how children play and rejoice and are happy; see how the birds of the field fly high up to heaven and are joyous in the sun. Watch them, and then watch them again and again, and then rejoice with them, become like them, like a child that is joyous in its father’s garden. Above all, however, turn to him who loved the children and birds and flowers and who himself was a joyous child of his Father and who has become your redeemer: to Jesus Christ. In him the Father himself encounters you; in him God comes close to you, and in him one thus finds the foundation and source of all joyfulness. Rejoicing means enjoying God’s nearness in Christ Jesus.

Eschatological Joy, Daily Joy, and Spirit Indwelling

So often in Scripture the presence of joy comes along with the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52; 1 Thess 1:6; Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17; 15:13). Jonathan Edwards picks up and develops this link between the Spirit and joy all over in his works, particularly when he writes on the Trinity, heaven, and on the religious affections.

The link between the indwelling of the Spirit and our joy is especially noteworthy in an except like this one taken from his Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (Yale 21:190):

What Christ purchased for us, was that we might have communion with God in his good, which consists in partaking of or having communion of the Holy Ghost. All the blessedness of the redeemed consists in partaking of the fullness of Christ, their head and Redeemer, which, I have observed, consists in partaking of the Spirit that is given him not by measure. This is the vital sap, which the branches derive from the true vine; this is the holy oil poured on the head, that goes down to the members.

Christ purchased for us that we should enjoy the love, but the love of God flows out in the proceeding of the Spirit; and he purchased for them that the love and joy of God should dwell in them, which is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The sum of all spiritual good which the saints have in this world, is that spring of living water within them which we read of, John 4:10–14; and those rivers of living waters flowing from within them which we read of, John 7:38–39, which we are there told is the Holy Spirit.

And the sum of all happiness in the other world, is that river of living waters which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, which is the river of God’s pleasure and is the Holy Spirit; which is often compared in Scripture to water, to the rain and dew, and rivers and floods of waters (Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 32:15, Isaiah 35:6–7, Isaiah 41:17–18 compared with John 4:14, and Isaiah 43:19–20).

Notice a few key points drawn together by Edwards:

  1. Our joy is expensive, and the high cost is purchased for us at the cross.
  2. The Spirit’s joy is Christ’s joy first, shared with us by virtue of our union with Christ.
  3. The indwelling presence of the Spirit is the origin of spiritual joy in our lives.
  4. And perhaps most interesting to me, joy — both our joy today and our joy eternal — are both deeply embedded in our union to Christ and in the purchased permanency of the Spirit’s indwelling in our lives now and forever. Which is why for Edwards there are such strong ties of continuity to be discovered between our present experience of joy in this world (no matter how disrupted and faulty and fallen), and our perfected joy that will be fully revealed in the next world.

Glorify!

Here’s a fine 135-word introduction to Christian Hedonism from the new children’s devotional by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Zonderkidz, 2012), pages 52–53:

GLORIFY!

God tells us to glorify him. “Glorify” means “to make a big deal of.” When someone makes a big deal of you, it fills up your heart with joy.

But why does God need us to make a big deal of him? Why does he need us to get joy?

He doesn’t. In the beginning God the Father and Jesus, his Son, together with the Holy Spirit, were already there — a loving family, glorifying each other in this wonderful Dance of Joy.

No. God didn’t create us so he could get joy — he already had it.

He created us so he could share it.

He knows it’s the thing your heart most needs to be happy. When God says, “Glorify me!”, he’s really saying, “Be filled with Joy!”

He’s inviting us into his Forever Happiness.

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), 767:

. . . Gandalf did not look at Pippin or speak a word to him as they went. Their guide brought them from the doors of the hall, and then led them across the Court of the Fountain into a lane between tall buildings of stone. After several turns they came to a house close to the wall of the citadel upon the north side, not far from the shoulder that linked the hill with the mountain. Within, upon the first floor above the street, up a wide carven stair, he showed them to a fair room, light and airy, with goodly hangings of dull gold sheen unfigured. It was sparely furnished, having but a small table, two chairs and a bench; but at either side there were curtained alcoves and well-clad beds within with vessels and basins for washing. There were three high narrow windows that looked northward over the great curve of Anduin, still shrouded in mists, towards the Emyn Muil and Rauros far away. Pippin had to climb on the bench to look out over the deep stone sill.

‘Are you angry with me, Gandalf?’ he said, as their guide went out and closed the door. ‘I did the best I could.’

‘You did indeed!’ said Gandalf, laughing suddenly; and he came and stood beside Pippin, putting his arm about the hobbit’s shoulders and gazing out of the window.

Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.