Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing

My dear friend Esther left this comment in my previous post on joy. She gave me permission to answer her here.
Irene, does your hair have highlights in it?
What about the mourners, who weep, but not without hope, as they know that a day of peace is coming? Is there not something to be said for comfort and stillness, that comes from hope in truth, even when the exterior circumstances remain in shambles?

I do find the joy/happiness distinction rather unhelpful. because both have to be inworked and outworked, but the joy/grief dichotomy is false... right? I think that's what people who say happiness [not equal] joy are getting at.

Is singing in the dark also joy? I guess I am asking if "waiting for joy" is the same as hope.

Dear Esther,

Your questions keep me awake at night. No wait, that's Khesed's job. I don't know all the answers. But here is a response to your (much appreciated) thoughts.

No, I don't have highlights in my hair. Though that would be so cool.

Honestly, I am not sure why people often make a distinction between happiness and joy. My attempt to understand the two together was mainly prompted by the war in my soul to rejoice.

I am a very emotional person. My facial expressions, the tone of my voice, my attitude are very influenced by my emotions. Because I am not my own, my feelings always affect those around me. Not only do I live before God, but I live before my husband and my children.

Therefore, I must learn to take the reins over my feelings. I want to know how to be emotional well. I want to rejoice well. Lament well. Laugh well. Weep well. Hope well. Fear well. Desire well. Hate well. Be compassionate well. Be zealous well. Be thankful well. Above all, the Lord has commanded us to love well.

Being emotional is not necessarily wrong. Scripture is full of expressions from highly emotional people. I find myself in good company, especially in Old Testament poetry. Jonathan Edwards described a "hard heart" as an "unaffected heart." The opposite of love, he said, is not hate—but indifference. "From love arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love." I don't want to have a "hard heart," but my heart needs to be moved by the right things.

Loving well means loving the right object. The phrases "I am happy" or "I am sad" need not imply an object of emotion. But the phrase "I love" raises the question "toward what or whom?" According to Augustine and Edwards, there are only two kinds of love: Love that drives people toward the City of Man and love that propels others to the City of God.

Weeping is not a sin; Jesus wept. Sorrow is not a sin; he is the Man of Sorrows. My sin lies in the reason for my misery, for I am often sad over stupid, worthless, fleeting stuffs. Being "happy" is not necessary shallow or less spiritual than being "joyful" (hence my long rant on how there is no distinction between happiness and joy). The question is upon what or whom do I place my hope for happiness?

So, I would say yes, Esther. Joy vs. grief dichotomy is false. The war within my soul is not between happiness or sorrow. It is a battle between two loves — my love for the world and my Lord's command to love him above all else.

You asked me whether waiting for joy is the same as hope. I would say yes, but—joy is not the object of my hope. I wait upon the Lord, for joy. My hope lies not in how circumstances might get better tomorrow; my hope lies in what the Lord has already fulfilled — on the old rugged cross. Or, to paraphrase another good friend, I can rejoice today not because of the promises this day holds; but because of the promises that day fulfilled.

Grace wins.

Writing this prompted me to think of two of my favorite passages in Scripture, Habakkuk 3 and Psalm 137 (the psalm after which this blog is named). They never fail to give me strength. I read the words of the psalmist during the worst parts of all three labors.

I read them because they are the fighting words of those who were sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I read them because they are prayers. In the midst of their shambles, they spoke to God; they spoke of God. They prayed to Yahweh — the object of their faith, hope, and love.

These two men in the following videos embody a sorrow that rejoices so well.

I have been greatly helped by Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) over the years when I forget to pray for our brothers and sisters imprisoned for Christ. Here, he speaks about how he spent three years in solitary confinement with Christ.

Recently, I learned about John Barros, a man who saved 1,000 babies. With his broken body, he stands for the Gospel nine hours a day, six days a week, for the past three years — in front of an abortion clinic. He is a man who fears no man, and no pregnant woman.


E! said...

Thanks for this Irene. I think I got where it was tripping me up:

True joy is true happiness.
False joy is false happiness.
Joy is happiness.

There are many things that can elate me. Good coffee, good food, good beer, sushi, handwritten letters, bicycles, flowers, hugs...

These are good things. But they are not the joy of salvation.

I think I would like to reacquaint with Emeth, the boy who needs definitions for words.

Irene Sun said...

=) yes! Thank you for the apt summary. I had that list of "things that can elate me" in my first draft. You know me so well now that you even see words I've deleted. O.o