One of the puzzling facets of the Christian life as I live it and see it lived is the lack of joy that we have. It seems to me that many Americans are living lives of quiet desperation, under layers of regret, hopelessness, frustration and outright depression. This applies to the unsaved as well as the saved, but in our case it is puzzling because of what Jesus has told us.
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” I imagine that the joy of Jesus is of such an infinite magnitude that it would be wonderful to experience. Furthermore, God sternly rebuked Israel for not serving him with joy. He said, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and lacking everything.”
That seems to summarize our American condition succinctly – an abundance of things but no joy or gladness of heart. I’m sure that the reasons for this condition are many, “you must realize the depth of your sin and the reality of God’s sacrifice” I can hear someone saying. But I have some ideas on why we feel down in the middle of everything, or sometimes in the face of great actual suffering. In no order they are:
1. We don’t do what we should due to fear of man, i.e. we don’t suffer because we are too worried about our reputation. I often hold back in public situations when I think I will be mocked for Christ, I don’t identify with him when I should. Jesus said that in this world we will have suffering and he is the prime example of it. The Apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer with him. The mockery, beating and death they endured was a liberating cause of great joy for them. I avoid this kind of suffering and therefore my joy is not full.
2. Church isn’t what it should be. I don’t mean this in terms of a primitive, “New Testament” church or in terms of doctrine (thought it might be that too), but rather in terms of love, relationships, care for the poor, missions mindedness, and so on (think about the ‘one anothers’). To me, this is a huge factor in joylessness. Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be lived out horizontally amongst God’s people. Instead, churches are full of people with no clue about how to be hospitable, how to love, how to eat together, talk to each other, or otherwise be the body of Christ. When your church situation is good, the rest of life coheres and is easier. When it isn’t, the rest of life suffers from isolation, alienation and depression.
3. Debt. Our society is structured around debt slavery. Because we are in debt, we cannot contribute like we should, help those in need like we should and so forth. In my case, there aren’t good church options around me and I can’t move close to a good church due to the housing situation which essentially boils down to a debt situation.
There is a certain grim determination to put one foot in front of the other that gets many of us Christians through life and I think that is fine in a sense. The lie of “happy all the time” positive-thinking Christianity is a nauseating answer to legitimate suffering and depression. That’s not what I’m advocating at all. We will all suffer. Until recently, when I thought of suffering I thought of persecution, medical problems or death. But now I think suffering includes (and perhaps primarily includes) the daily grind, boredom, Groundhog Day like repetition, rejection from the Church you are part of, not being able to exercise your gifts for God, things like that.
There are many other legitimate reasons for this lack of joy. I don’t have the answers, I just know the dilemma. Thank God we do have Jesus, for without him this joylessness would be truly overwhelming. The world if full of people numbing themselves with movies, consumption, hobbies, family activities or whatever and all for nothing. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Fear God and keep the commandments, this is the whole duty of man.