Joy isn’t always an easy concept to grasp or differentiate from cousin happiness. A common struggle is the idea of finding joy in the midst of hardship as for many happiness is defined by the absence of hardship.
Contemporary western culture is so soft that even trivial things get elevated to the level of ‘hard’ (just listen this week to the different references to how ‘hard’ something is) and thus robbing the poor darlings of all semblance of joy.
Yet in scripture we see that hardship and suffering, far from being places where joy is killed, are places where joy is discovered. A bit like finding treasure in a field that doesn’t belong to you, in fact.
Here are the voices of David, Habakkuk, James and Paul
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Or consider the example of Jesus:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
“I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” (2 Cor 7:4)
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” (1Th 1:6)
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)
or from the OT
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:17-18)
or how about Psalm 126
“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
You can see the pairings right: Sow in tears, desolation & barrenness, severe affliction (literally being crushed by life), extreme poverty, trials of various kinds, imprisonment and shameful death on a cross.
But in all of them there was the mysterious presence of joy. It’s not joy in suffering or saying that their suffering was somehow good but that in their suffering they knew who God was, His promises, His goodness, His comfort, His ability to produce goodness even from evil. Their eyes weren’t fixed on their suffering (all of which was great) but fixed instead on something incomparably greater which they realised was somehow (by the mystery of faith) theirs and this caused them great joy.