I had a great chance to do it this week. Monday night after the National Championship I’m on Facebook watching all the Clemson fans go crazy and someone posts “Don’t let anyone tell you God doesn’t answer prayers! #gotigers #allin #national champs.” I clicked comment. I typed out “glad you’ve got the right priorities in your prayer life, I waste my time on the nearly 8000 unreached or barely reached people groups in the world.” That’s great right? I’m sensing a little bit of judgement, you have to remember this important point: present company excluded Clemson fans are the worst. Especially on social media. Especially after Carolina (my Carolina, not y’all’s) has been so bad recently. Luckily Meghan was still awake, and so when I turned to her and said “isn’t this so funny” she rightly told me it was not and that I couldn’t say it. So I deleted it and went to bed.
I guess that story was all for naught though because I am going to Jesus juke that comment a little because I think it speaks to the heart of what we’re talking about with this idea of being made new. It speaks, I think, to the CS Lewis quote I introduced on New Year’s and would have mentioned more last week if not for the snow: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” We pray about the outcome of football games. Think about that for a minute. Really let that sink in. We have the ability to speak to the creator of the universe. We believe that when we speak the creator of the universe hears us. And we pray about 21 year old’s playing a game. Our desires are not too strong they’re too weak, we’re worried about the wrong things. We make the wrong things our priorities. And I think that’s what’s at the heart of this idea of being made new, if we’re really embracing this newness that is spoken of again and again in scripture then what we’ll see is a shift in our priorities, we’ll see the evidence of it in the things that we pursue. And the reason for that is put into perspective in these verses from 1 Peter. Peter tells us “In God’s great mercy he has given us new birth into new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have new life – like we talked about two weeks ago. That new life reveals to us a new hope, a hope that is not based on anything we find in the world or can accomplish in our lives but in the idea that this is not the end. It’s a hope based on the fact that in Jesus Christ there is victory over death. Peter calls it a living hope, because it is based in Jesus’ triumph over death through his resurrection. It’s a hope that is alive because death cannot overcome it. Its alive because, as we see further on in the passage, it lives even in the face of trials and tribulations and it does not back down or grow faint. This living hope is a hope that gives life. And along with life it’s a hope that brings with it joy.
Joy is a tough word to unpack, it’s a word that, like a lot of others, has lost something in our time that it seems to have had in the past. Joy is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure or happiness.” When we use it we generally do so interchangeably with happiness. The things that make us happy, like our football team winning the National Championship, also bring us joy. If there’s something we really like to do we say we enjoy it: it brings us joy, it brings us pleasure, it brings us happiness. When good things happen, we rejoice: we act with joy, we showcase how happy we are. But look how Peter uses it. “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” The people he’s writing to aren’t happy – they’re suffering. They aren’t feeling pleasure – they’re feeling grief. They aren’t doing things that are fun for them – they’re going through trials. And yet they’re still rejoicing. To make joy and happiness equal is to miss something about what is being promised, they aren’t the same thing. There’s a difference between joy and happiness, there is something deeper at play here.
One difference between joy and happiness is that happiness is based on the present. When things happen that we like it makes us happy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the further we get away from that particular event the less likely we are to keep that same feeling. Our joy, at least in the way Peter is using it, doesn’t come from present circumstances but from future hope. We experience joy when realize who God is, what God has done, and what God continues to do. Even in the midst of grief and pain and trials and all the things that make us unhappy we can still cling seek and find joy through confidence that these moments are temporary and God’s victory over death is permanent. Happiness, like any other emotion, comes and goes. If we have found new life in Christ then our joy remains because our hope endures.
Happiness is based on the present, its temporal, joy is eternal. Likewise, happiness is based on external things but joy is based on something internal. Let’s go back to the CS Lewis quote for a minute, he said “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.” Happiness is all too often based on the things going on outside of ourselves. Sometimes our happiness is based fun, we’re happy when we’re going to parties or doing things we like or watching our team win but when we’re stuck in the house alone, doing things we’ve been putting off for months, watching our team lose to the Citadel suddenly we’re not happy anymore. Sometimes our happiness is based on relationships. We’re happy when we’re with a certain person or a group of people, when we’re made to feel wanted. But when that fades we aren’t happy anymore. Sometimes our happiness is based on ambition. As long as we’re getting raises and promotions and working towards that next goal we’re good, when that isn’t there anymore the happiness is gone. Our happiness comes from things outside our control but our joy comes from inside us. Our joy comes from seeking God, from embracing who God is and who we are as God’s beloved creation. That can’t be taken away from us because it is based entirely on something inside of us.
Lastly, and similarly, too often our happiness comes from other people. Too often in our attempts to be happy we put all the eggs in someone else’s basket. And as long as that person, whoever he or she is, acts a certain way or does things the way we want them to be done or showers us with praise and love we’re happy. The issue with that is if people are our source then we’re eventually we’re going to come up empty. People will let us down. People will fail to follow through. The people who make us happy can just as easily make us unhappy. Joy comes from God. It is a response to God, it is a reaction to God. It is about who God is and what God has done. It is built on something that cannot fade or be taken away – “God so loved the world that he sent his only son that those who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” “Though you have not seen him you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of you souls.”
We are never promised happiness in life. We are never told in scripture that life is going to be easy and that trials will never come. What we’re promised is that in the midst of those things we have reason for joy. In the midst of those things we remember that we serve a God who went through trials and dealt with disappointment and pain and abandonment and sorrow, a God who wept at the sudden death of a friend, and that God is with us and will not abandon us. That God created us and redeems us. That God is the business of making all things new, of bringing about the day when there will be no more death, no more mourning, and no more pain. This is our hope. This is our joy. This is our God