“That was, without a question, one of the hardest things I have ever done,” Benjamin typed on his iPad last Sunday in church, to avoid disrupting the service with whispers. I had watched while he walked back to his seat from his place at the piano and sat down heavily in our pew, and could only nod in agreement. It had been pretty hard on my end, too.
This past Sunday was the first since we had heard the news of the death of a young, vivacious member of our church. It had been shocking, heartbreaking news, but then Sunday morning we were back in church, hearing about God’s grace, and singing, of all things, about joy.
How can we possibly have joy in the midst of something like this? I wondered. Where is the joy in the death of a friend?
So I turned to the Bible, asking God to show me His view of joy. As I did, I was reminded again of how very different Biblical joy is from our earthly definition. Biblical joy is constant, it is steadfast, and it cannot be changed by circumstances, no matter how grim, because Biblical joy isn’t actually a feeling at all.
Philippians 4:4 commands us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” and 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says to “Rejoice always.” The writers left no room for exceptions. No room to disagree. Have joy! they say.
Yet, despite these verses, these commands to have joy, Jesus never told us that our life would be without pain. In John 16:33, He said, “In the world you will have tribulation…” Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there is a time to mourn and a time to weep here on Earth, and Romans 12:15 tells us to “weep with those who weep.” Joy and sadness can go hand in hand.
That’s how we know this joy is different from emotion. We won’t always feel joy. God tells us we can feel sad, He tells us there is pain and tribulation in this world, and Jesus Himself even cried with Martha and Mary when their brother died (John 11), but still the Bible tells us to “rejoice always.” Still God tells us that we can find deep, restful joy in Him.
As Christians, we have seen and trust in the goodness of the Lord. We also know that there is an end to this pain and this world. We know that we have a secure salvation through Jesus. And we know that God is ultimately in control. In essence, as Christians focusing on God’s truth, we can know exactly what Jesus said at the end of John 16:33: “I have overcome the world.”
We live in a world that is broken and painful, and sometimes we experience terrible tragedy. The Bible doesn’t deny that. In this hurting world, we should always be ready to weep together and to comfort one another. We should mourn. But the Bible also tells us about a hope for the future, the love of our God, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit that can bring us, not necessarily a loud, jubilant joy, but sometimes a strong, quiet joy that rests in the hope of the salvation of Christ, even as we weep.