My friend recently shared a video of her 18 month-old granddaughter searching for her first Easter eggs. Directed initially by her father, the little one examines the first egg with mild curiosity, but then she sees an egg on her own. She turns to look at the adults gathered around with the greatest delight then runs to pick up her new discovery. Our experience of Easter joy is a bit like like this child’s. We are struck with wonder and delight that someone who loves us would place such a beautiful gift in our path. It is this phenomenon that baffled an unbelieving C.S. Lewis and led him to acknowledge God as Creator and Redeemer. This experience is “the good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10) and the Bible is filled with passages reminding us that the “hope of the righteous brings joy (Proverbs 10:28), that in his “presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) and to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16; Philippians 4:4).
Yet any basic teaching on joy will note that joy is different than happiness. True joy contains a deep vein of meaning and satisfaction that runs deeper than circumstance. I have many times felt the deepest joy in the same space of deep sorrow and loss–the funeral of a beloved and faithful Christian. In those moments, the joy of knowing that my dear one has reached complete rest is like Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro, piercing the shadow of my grief.
It is in such moments that we understand what Ezra meant when he gave his benediction: “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy is more than a feeling of delight or satisfaction, it is a powerful, stabilizing force in the face of adversity. In fact, the command to rejoice is contained many of the Bible’s teachings on facing trial and suffering. If we should doubt this reality, we need only to be reminded that joy was the underlying motivation for Jesus to face the agonies of crucifixion (“who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
- Nehemiah 8:6-12
- John 15:1-11
- Hebrews 12: 1&2
- 1 Peter 1:3-9