Joy and Idolatry
Joy is God-given gladness that is not at the mercy of circumstantial happiness. It is the uplift in one's spirit, courtesy of God's love, that can coexist with such adversities as pain and suffering. It rests on the abiding sense that we are forgiven and befriended by God, come what may in this troubled world. It is not a temporary emotional episode. Happiness may come and go, but joy endures even in the teeth of adversity. Joy is the offspring of divine love received and properly treasured with sincere thanksgiving to God. Given that divine love is an unearned gift, joy is the benefit of a gift. Idols interfere with the proper treasuring of divine love and thereby diminish and even preclude joy. Idolatry is the sure path to a joyless life, and the joyless life is not worth living.
In John's Gospel, Jesus portrays joy as the offspring of obedience to his love command.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:9-15, NIV).
This is a remarkable portrayal of joy: joy is the goal of the unselfish love
(agape) manifested, offered, and commanded by Jesus. We are commanded
to love as Jesus loves in order that our joy (that is, his joy in us)
may be complete. Obeying Jesus's love command is thus the doorway to joy for
us. We have to receive and to treasure his love with thanksgiving in order to
love as he loves. That is, we have to become genuine friends of Jesus. We enter
into this friendship by faithfully
obeying his love command. So, faithfully obeying the love command, in friendship
with Jesus, is the way to joy. This joy, given by God, endures in all circumstances.
It thus goes beyond any superficial feeling. As Nehemiah has said: "the
joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10).
Joy as friendship with Jesus is the only antidote to the killjoy of idolatry. Our idols fail to deliver the joy we need; they leave us, in the end, dissatisfied. The joy that idols may promise actually comes from a different source, from a sacred friendship with Jesus. In this friendship we undergo transformation in our likes and dislikes, in what we value and disvalue, and even in who we are. In particular, we undergo the reversal exemplified by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We take on the following attitude toward God: not what I will, but what You will (see Mark 14:36). Such change in what we will, or want, opens us to receiving divine love, whereby we can begin to love as Jesus loves. This transformation yields joy, the true article that can remove the drawing power of idols. Idols fall away as useless and even repulsive, given the joy we find in the loving friendship of Jesus. In the end, Jesus aims to replace our sad idols with his joy. Will we let him?
come in many kinds.
smile has no secret.
smile offers peace,
as the sun it shines so bright
too the trees they sway and sing
when will I begin to dance?
soon as every breath I take.