Yesterday’s post (Sammy Rhodes on Twitter humor and resurrection hope) reminds me of an exchange at the 2013 DG National Conference on C.S. Lewis. During the speaker panel the topic of “jovial Calvinism” arose, and the discussion was later published in The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis (Crossway, 2014), pages 166–69:
Douglas Wilson: I guess the first thing I would say is that you have to be careful that the joviality is not sort of a Dr. Pangloss, like out of Candide, where someone who’s going through a terrible world of suffering is not clued in to what’s happening. That’s not joviality. That’s not someone who is responding appropriately. He needs to be dialed in. True joviality, I think, has to be understood as an act of defiance. The world is a mess. It is fallen. It’s filled with wickedness.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the White Witch comes across the feast in the woods and asks, “Why all this gluttony? Why all this self-indulgence?” Lewis captures that wonderfully. Judas is the one who wants to know why the ointment was not sold and given to the poor. Judas is the one who is being the skinflint. Judas was the one pinching the pennies — and there was a reason for that, as John tells us. The White Witch captures that wonderfully. If you’re celebrating at some Sabbath dinner, or you’re celebrating because you’ve never heard of any of the conflict, then you just are not clued in. But if you are at Rivendell, The Last Homely House — if you’re feasting — then it’s an act of defiance. It’s a declaration of war. It’s the recognition that this is how we fight. We are the cheerful warriors, the happy warriors, the cavalier. We should fight like a cavalier. We should fight like Dartanian and not like a thug. Right? We need to fight. We must fight, but the person who fights like a cavalier is an attractive leader. He’s going to attract more people to his side. He’s going to be more effective.
Think about a pro-life activist who says, “But they’re killing babies, and it’s terrible. And the whole world’s falling apart. The whole world’s going to hell.” So they write their letter to the editor with a fisted crayon — what I like to call the spittle-flecked letter. That is, they can’t say, “But abortion’s so important, I’ve got to do it this way.” I would say no. Abortion is so important that you must not do it that way. You’re not venting; you’re fighting. And if you fight, you want to fight effectively. You want to use your head. You want to keep your cool. And part of this is, I think, essentially joviality.
Joe Rigney’s talk yesterday was wonderful, and he pinpointed King Lune as the quintessential jolly man. He’s king of Archenland. But he’s the quintessential jovial character. He’s not a pacifist. He’s first in and last out. He is the fighting king, but he’s the kind of fighting king that I would want to follow. There are people who are so hard-bitten — they’re so disillusioned — that they’re not going to motivate anybody to do anything. So that’s in a nutshell what I would say.
Philip Ryken: Joviality is not the only mood of the Christian life, but somebody that does not have a godly, sanctified joviality perhaps has a one-dimensional or not as fully human expression of the Christian life. The New Testament seems to present both fasting and feasting as normative for the Christian experience — both lamentation and celebration. Most of us find it hard to get the balance or proportion right, but those are both strongly held values in the Gospels. And C. S. Lewis is one of the best exemplars we can think of as the jovial Christian.
Douglas Wilson: Yeah. The apostle Paul says in Corinthians, “We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” So you can go through afflictions. There’s tears and bruises and hard times, and that’s what I think a biblical joviality means. Death is swallowed up by victory at the end, and we must never forget that. . . . If you have a true community of believers, if you are plugged into a church and are a vibrant member of that church and you take the words of the Scripture seriously, “Weep with those who weep; rejoice with those who rejoice,” then you find yourself having to do a lot of those things in quick succession. You’ve got the funeral on Wednesday and the wedding on Friday or the funeral on Wednesday and the wedding rehearsal Thursday evening and then the wedding on Friday. And you’ve got to go from one to the other.
We’re not called to schizophrenic scatteredness. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. The thing I must have to orient me in all of this is the recognition at all times that this is a comedy, not a tragedy. This ends well. It is comedy not in the sense of a sitcom, but comedy in the sense of The Divine Comedy, where it ends well. So it begins with a garden. The Bible begins with a garden and ends with a garden city. It ends with the bride coming down the aisle. That’s how it ends. That’s the story I’m in. So if I’m preaching the funeral of someone whose death just shocked the whole congregation, do I know where I am? Do I know what kind of book I’m in? This goes back to your point of knowing the genre. Do I know the genre of the history of the world? It’s a comedy.
Randy Alcorn: Many of you have had this experience. Certainly when I’ve been doing memorial services, the therapy of laughter occurs as certain stories are told about the loved one who’s departed and is now with the Lord, and you’ll have tears just streaming down your face and then laughter — and it’s not a superficial laughter. It’s a laughter that is an overcoming laughter. It’s a laughter that says we know a God of joy, a God who is eternally happy, and we’ll be happy for all eternity, and we’ll be with him and enjoying that happiness, and our loved one has gone on to be with him. That doesn’t minimize our tears, but it does give a tone to the memorial service that’s remarkable. There are times when laughter is louder at memorial services than in a normal context, and when it’s done for those reasons it’s Christ-centered laughter. I think it’s very healthy.