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Fruits of the Spirit Vs. The World: Joy

May 24, 2012

     Joy. It’s something that’s lacking in the world today.

     Our age is an age consumed with bitterness and irony. It’s not cool to be unironically joyful. The preferred outlook is that of a jaded cynic. Even in the Christian community, joy can still be demeaned. When someone has a genuine smile, people assume that it is a mask. Sometimes it even bothers people when others are genuinely joyful–“Why are you so happy? What is wrong with you?”

     There are two emotions in the world that go against joy. One is a cheap sentimentality, one fueled by modern entertainments like novels and TV. This is the cutesy, Precious Moments kind of feeling that says “Everything is fine.” This is the kind of emotion that leads to Care Bears, “The Good Ship Lollipop,” “Kids Need Hugs, Not Drugs,” The Family Circus, and anything else that can be described as sickeningly wholesome. The second kind of emotion is a jaded cynicism, the worldview that says that everything is hopelessly screwed up. This is the emotion behind the bitter irony of my generation, the “Life Sucks and Then You Die” mentality. However, it is as equally sentimental as the gooey, fluffy kind of sentimentality. It creates an alternate reality, a view of the world where everything is horrible, and revels in it, like the child who won’t go play with the other kids out of pure spite. (Interestingly enough, this emotion is disproportionately held by privileged, materialistic young Americans. It seems that money really can’t buy happiness.)

      Joy is the answer to these two strains of sentimentality. One of my favorite quotes is this quip by Bono: “Pop music says everything is fine. Rock music says everything is not fine, but you can change it.” Joy is the rock music of emotions. Joy does not ignore evil in the world–it fights against it. G.K. Chesterton said that our proper stance toward the world should be one of loving it and hating it at the same time. Joy does this. Joy is the antidote for the evils of the world. If you look at the great evil men of the world, you do not see a lot of true joy. Evil men may have some sort of twisted happiness, but they are always stricken with a pride that takes away joy. Can you imagine Hitler doing a hula hoop? Can you see Stalin cracking jokes about himself with no ulterior motive? Now think of someone like St. Francis or Martin Luther doing those same things. Joy comes from not seeing ourselves as the center of the universe, from not taking ourselves too seriously. It is this lack of joy and triumph of “seriousness” that has led to so many problems in our age.

     True Christian Joy is something that the world looks at in puzzlement. The Bible says that Jesus suffered the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” The world replies, “Really?” The idea that someone could do something without an ulterior motive is puzzling to us. It gets weirder. James writes, “Count it all joy, brethren, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” Why are we supposed to be joyful when we are going through trouble. The worldly mentality says “Get out of trouble as much as possible.” This seems counterintuitive, but it actually works. Getting out of trouble actually results in more trouble, while going through trouble results in maturity.    

     One final thought: Joy is the opposite of the bitter irony that pervades the thoughts of my generation. I think it was N.D. Wilson who said, “When you think of Eden, think of spinning kids.” Kids who spin around in circles don’t do it for any ulterior motive–they just do it because it’s fun. I think that a proper conception of Joy will help deliver us from the soul-crushing irony that pervades the Spirit of the Age.

Currently Listening: Absence by Paper Route, Invisible Empires EP by Sara Groves

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