Do you ever look forward to the weekend for some enjoyment after a busy week? Or aim to enjoy a good show and a special desert on a workday evening? All of us welcome our sweeter moments in life, especially if our lives are a bit mundane. We long for more. Americans have even enshrined the pursuit of happiness as a human right.
So let’s look at this bias for happiness with a biblical lens. We were made for enjoyment. Paul, for instance, called on his readers in Philippi to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” A Bible read-through reveals expressions of delight and invitations to joy from front to back—they’re as common as clustered flowers in a summer garden.
But as much as we delight in our golden moments of happiness they can also be honey-traps. All too often we mistake cheap imitations for the real thing—and that can be dangerous. Satan, the enemy of our souls, is like a spider weaving his best webs among the most fragrant blossoms of God’s garden.
And here is where an affective understanding of the soul—an awareness that we are made by God to be lovers and responders—is so helpful as we navigate a life filled with attractions. Joy is one of the great come-ons in life: whenever we experience a moment of joy we don’t want to lose it! And when a joyful moment ends we try to retrace the steps that got us there. And there lies the mistake: we chase the experience of joy rather than its ultimate source: as in Paul’s “rejoice in the Lord.”
As a result joy can be hard to find and even harder to sustain. Enjoyment might be as simple as winning a fuzzy teddy bear in a circus hoop toss. Or it might be the stir that comes from solving a complex word puzzle. Or our delight in the smile and touch of someone we find attractive. But all are mere echoes of God and his self-giving, so they only tease us in the end.
And because the joy of a given moment—our enjoyment of an event—is elusive our efforts to recreate joy is like trying to capture a passing fragrance: it comes and goes without ever being ruled. And repetitions of the enjoyed event only offer diminishing returns. C. S. Lewis wrote of this dilemma in his testimonial, Surprised by Joy.
The ultimate basis for the word, enjoy—“to experience joy”—is profound. And the spectrum of enjoyment is dramatically wide.
At the base end of the spectrum our enjoyments can be as simple as the stirring of senses by a stimulant. At the complex end it can be the stir of our souls by a fulfilled financial ambition or a consummated sexual quest. This is where the enemy is most clever: he enslaves us by manipulating our desires throughout the spectrum of our physical, emotional, and social appetites.
This shouldn’t surprise us nowadays, given our data-centric new era. We know, for instance, that Google tracks our Internet preferences and then markets to us accordingly. This offers a direct analogy: long before Google came along Satan has known what people long for. He rules the world by manipulating desires. And today his ability to use appetite-stirring media—and, by extension, the enjoyment-hungry viewers of that media—has grown to epic proportions. Marketing specialists today are knowingly effective as they stir our responses in every direction but towards Christ.
Paul referenced this in Ephesians 2:1-3. All of us—even those of us who are now believers—were once dead towards God and ruled by Satan as “sons of disobedience” who “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the flesh and the mind” like everyone else in the world. The insight here is that Satan rules indirectly—by manipulating desires—rather than by some sort of direct control: he gets people to follow him by stirring deceptive desires.
But here is where enjoyment is wonderfully bi-directional. Over time the law of diminishing returns exposes the counterfeit nature of entertainments and stimulants. And that, in turn, can lead those who want true joy to listen to the calling of God’s love that won’t just tease and disappear. Read Lewis’s account for his own conversion story here.
Joy, then, is ultimately the experience of meeting and embracing its source: God the Father, Son, and Spirit. God in his Triune communion “is love” and joy is the outflow of that love. It was this overflowing goodness—a song of joy—that explains God’s creation and his redemption: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will exult over you with joy; he will quiet you by his love; he will delight over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Joy is our response to God’s joyful song to us!
Think of the Galatians 5 list—the fruit of the Spirit—as it reveals Christ’s presence in our new-born hearts: first comes love, then joy. It comes from our delight in the Creator who loves us. And that replaces our former love of self and creation.
So Joy awaits us and invites us. His name is Jesus. Let’s listen to his song of love and then enjoy him forever!