But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Joy. In today’s world filled with political, cultural, financial, and medical anxiety, joy can be elusive. Of course, it will remain elusive if we confuse joy with happiness.
There was a time period when many hymns described the Christian as “happy.” “It was there by faith I received my sight,/ and now I am happy all the day,” is the end of one old gospel chorus. That’s a very strange description. I have never been constantly happy ever. Even in good times, times of celebration and delight, I could detect waves of intensity in how good I felt. Happiness and joy, while they are described in almost identical terms in most dictionaries, are not the same thing.
Happiness is a momentary feeling of elation in response to something in the environment. It is temporary. It is dependent on external stimuli or situations. Whereas joy is an underlying state of contentment based on the grace and promises of God. It can be upbeat or subdued. It can be overwhelmingly positive or generally hopeful . It is less an emotion than a state of being, a character trait.
Of course, with depression on the rise, I don’t want anyone to think that such a psychological ailment is somehow sinful. That’s just as bad as Job’s friends blaming his afflictions on some underlying, unconfessed sin. One can be genuinely joyful and still suffer mental illness.
But then what is the point of joy if we can feel multiple things at the same time, good and bad? It is to serve as a spiritual anchor despite our emotional ups and downs. If we have a grounded sense of joyful hope–knowing that the Lord indeed loves us, has decisively tackled the problem of sin and death, and will keep his promise of a day when heaven will come to earth and we will be risen just like our Savior–then we have a handle to grasp when everything else in life is in flux.
It may seems carrion comfort to those who are battling the worst this world can throw at us without Jesus. But joy is the fruit that arises from God’s gift, the virtue of hope. And hope is all anyone can have when facing the future. We cannot know fully what will happen. We cannot totally control the outcomes of the course we’re on. But we know the One who knows all things and holds the future in the palm of his hands. And we can be confident, because he fulfilled his promises once before when our Lord Jesus rose from the grave! And that reality can give us a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Father, no matter the trials I face, let your hope produce the fruit of joy in me, so I might have the strength to face whatever comes my way. Amen.