Joy (part 4): deeper than emotion

Now to deal with the first part of my statement: ‘At any given moment, one does not necessarily have to be feeling happy or experiencing pleasure in order to be joy-filled. ‘

Firstly, the emotion of happiness and the experience of pleasure are necessarily temporary, yet we are commanded to “Be joyful always” (1 Thes 5:15). The dictionary descriptions (discussed here) are simply impossible to maintain constantly.

Now I know that God does call us to other currently impossible things, but consider Jesus, who unlike us achieved them on earth (Heb 4). He’s our example; he is perfect; he thus must have been in accord of this constant state of joy, yet we know he cried and mourned on multiple occasions (Luke 19, John 11). As he prayed before his death, he tells Peter, James and John “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death'”(Mark 14).

Secondly, it is clear that suffering is the opposite of experiencing pleasure. Jesus was obviously not having a pleasurable experience on the cross, yet as I have explored he was joy-filled. The early Christians were described as having joy in trial and suffering (1 Thes 1, 2 Cor 8).

Lastly- and I apologise because this is very hard to articulate – I think that while emotions are important, can be very good, are used by God and so forth, we should not be driven by or for emotion (alone). Emotions are transient, to a large extent uncontrollable, and very often don’t reflect reality. Contrary to this, we are to be like Jesus who is unchanging, in control of himself and very real. In Gethsemane, he obviously was not looking forward to what was about to happen (Matt 26); his emotions said no, but he himself said “Yet not what I will, but what you will”.

If joy was just to be the feeling of happiness or the experience of pleasure, this also would not mirror the rest of these fruit. Love is an emotion, but the long-lasting love that God wants us to have is founded in commitment and act of will. Peace is more than ‘feeling calm’; it is part of the act of surrender to God, and so many other things that would require another series of long-winded blog posts to explain. Patience and self-control – oh wow, if these are not an act of will which eventually do result in a change in character what else can be described as such? Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness: all are things that could be a one-off situational act, but in the Christian’s life should be constant and ever-growing. If joy was just ‘the feeling of happiness’, it could not be classed among these hard-won long-standing fruit by anyone’s standard.

Of course all this has just established what joy is not; merely the leaves on the tree that our culture considers to be joy. I’ve yet to establish what the rest of that tree is, and how it looks in winter when the leaves have fallen off.

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