Local Christian radio stations have a surplus of songs about joy and God’s goodness, but a deficit of songs depicting the human condition of sorrow. Christian bookstores are lined with books explaining God’s promises and blessings, and smiles drench church congregations, and “how are you’s” are constantly met with “all is well.” The obligation to wear a happy face, and to move quickly out of sorrow is breaking the backs of the church. Joy is the prize to obtain, and joy can be found even in the ashen heap.
Joy remains even in bleak circumstances. Jeremiah the weeping prophet, in the midst of declaring how God utterly tore Him to shreds, speaks of God’s infinite love and mercy. Jesus, on the sermon on the mount states “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” In a dark prison cell, the apostle Paul writes to the Phillipians an admonition to rejoice.
Happiness is a fleeting emotion brought on by fleeting pleasures. Happiness comes from a new job, or new romance, or when something goes well. Joy is transcendent and unaffected by the surroundings. Joy is a word that is impossible for a world bent on the temporal to understand. When something is lost happiness fades, yet joy is anchored in a God who never fades, and whose goodness is found even amidst tragedy and through hearts being torn to pieces. Happiness is not to be confused with joy.
Their are fraud gospels that cheapen the meaning of joy by preaching that the evidence of God’s goodness is found only in His blessings. These gospels will convince the sufferer of cancer, or the one who just lost their spouse that they have done something wrong, or that God is just not there. The conclusion often and tragically reached is that God is absent in the sorrow and suffering. Yet sometimes suffering is what drives people to seek out the balm that heals all wounds. Alone in the darkness is where people find the God who will never turn His back. God is not a God absent in suffering.
Imagine the trauma in Abraham’s heart when God asked him to sacrifice his promised son, yet Abraham fully obeyed because he knew God was there, and God was good. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, sweat drops of blood out of anguish for what was to come, yet he saw God there as he surrendered to “not my will, but yours be done.”
Rumi, a Persian philosopher and poet once said, “the cure for pain is in the pain.” Sometimes the greatest healing comes from facing the pain head on. Maybe every one needs to stop scrambling to get off the ashen floor prematurely. Joy is obtainable in anguish because God is still present amongst the wreckage.