In the evening when my wife and kids gather for dinner, I throw out theology-loaded questions to gauge where my children are at spiritually, and and to see where I can improve as a father. I chuckle at their cute little responses and we work through the answers together.
Our 7-year-old son can field questions like a reformed little league all-star, already thinking a bit like the man he was named after (Jonathan Edwards), already asking and working through questions (like: why is it not selfish for God to love Himself above all others?). But it’s the open theism tendencies of my closet arminian 3-year-old daughter that leave me concerned (not to mention the open-fisted carbohydrate hurling of my 18-month-old switch-pitching son that leaves me covered in gravy.)
So I continue to ask questions.
Last Wednesday night, the question that joined the chicken casserole out on the table was this: For Christians, what promises to deliver joy? We all know that we should be joyful, but why? How?
I rephrased the question a bit for my daughter: If God took away all our stuff, would we be happy? Could we be happy?
“No,” she said without pause.
So I asked the question again to see if a moment of reflection would help her formulate a more detailed answer.
“No,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because we could not be happy because we have no things.” You needed to be there to hear the words for yourself to get the full cuteness factor.
I appreciate my daughter’s response for its honesty (and for the way she answers questions with multiple uses of the word because in each sentence). She was born with this materialism because her dad passed this tendency along to her, a dad who sometimes acts as though his happiness was tethered to the amount of stuff he possesses.
And I think each of us are born with this Asaph-complex, the tendency to gauge God’s favor towards us, and therefore define our personal joy, by material prosperity and circumstances (Psalm 73).
So can we be happy if God takes away all our stuff—or even worse?
In this Psalm, David was surrounded by trials and temptations and loss. David was cornered, he was hunted by his own son who usurped his throne, he was both the target of slander and defenseless to it, he was pierced with the hot lead of gossip fired from the barrel of loose tongues, he was humiliated publicly, he was surrounded by lies that further undermined his authority, and he was even brought down low by his friends, who became a cloud of doom further darkening his life.
This Psalm perplexes those of us in a western materialistic climate, because despite experiencing the loss of everything, David was filled with joy. He had joy because he had God.
Communion with God was David’s joy, a joy untouched by the slander, untouched by the loss, untouched by the outward gloom, a sweet fellowship enjoyed in reflection and prayer in the quiet peacefulness of night, those dark hours when the terror of anxiety often breaks into the silence with piercing screams to steal and destroy joy, moments now calmed for communion with God.
It was God who deposited this joy in David’s heart, a joy similar to the joy filling the heart during times of material abundance and prosperity, but a different joy altogether, a joy untethered from physical comforts, untethered from the approval of others, untethered from the plunge of Wall Street.
We, too, can find this joy if we find it in God, as we walk in God’s Word, as we know Him, as we love Him, as we delight in His goodness. And as we walk this path, joy, untouchable by circumstances, fills our hearts.
It is a good thing, and rightly do we enjoy, a bank account with money, a table with food, and several pair of clothes. These gifts each flow from God’s generosity towards each of us. But the possessions are small, temporary gifts compared to the fountain of joy He offers us.
To have God as our own, being united to Him through the death of His Son on the cross, is to possess the source of all joy, not merely enjoying temporary gifts, but to directly enjoy God, who is the source of our “infinite, self-sufficient, all-sufficient, essential, overflowing good” (Edwards).
This is the one secret to joy and happiness that you will not find printed in 40-point fluorescent green font on the cover of a magazine cover in the check-out line at the grocery store:
Get God, then seek Him all of your days, and discover with the Psalmist that the source of eternal joy is not in the what, it’s in the Who.
Quote from Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale) 10:383.