Joy In God
By Ward Fenley
Chapter 3
The Origin of Joy

In our pursuit of finding joy and happiness in life, a very important question must be asked: What is the origin of joy? That is, where does joy come from? It seems to be the first most important and logical question. Suppose a person was in the desert and desperately needing water. The first thing that person must do is find the spring from which water would flow. That person may see a cactus or a rattlesnake, but neither of those will provide water. They might attempt to squeeze water out of a cactus or a snake but that would produce little if any water. It certainly would not produce enough water to sustain life. Likewise, in the pursuit of joy we may look to a hobby, a job, a person or an object for providing joy, but ultimately that joy will fade if we are looking for an inexhaustible supply. We all have experienced this to one degree or another. In this era we are provided with such a vast amount of stimuli to pacify our desire for fulfillment or happiness. But once we have experienced any particular stimulus for a period of time, we begin to realize that continual satisfaction ceases. From there we begin to pursue another stimulus to grant us happiness and satisfaction. The cycle never ends. We jump from one temporal joy to another. Many would like to think that is the solution. And if one has enough money or friends, they may be able to pacify that need for joy a little longer than the person without money and friends. The bible even recognizes a correlation between money and friends:

Proverbs 14:20 The poor are disliked even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.
Proverbs 19:4 Wealth brings many friends, but the poor are left friendless.
At first glance these passages may encourage people to get more money to find more friends so that they will have more possibilities for experiencing joy. However, the Bible also speaks of the temporal quality of wealth: Proverbs 23:4-5 Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. {5} Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. So then if our goal is to find happiness or joy exclusively in friends and/or wealth, not only would those riches eventually fly away, so also would the friends. But suppose the riches and the friends continue. Do those provide a joy that maintains strength despite all problems? Can friends and money satisfy the mind when we lose a loved one? Can they bring delight to one’s soul while on the sickbed or while we are maimed or injured or in misery because of some ailment? Even greater than that, can money and friends insure the stability of your mind while contemplating the reality of impending cessation of life? Can friends and money give the mind rest while the person looks in the mirror and experiences the gradual decay of the body? Therefore what we would find is that in the most desperate circumstances of human experience, no created thing could ever in and of itself provide that which calms the mind and gives an underlying rest and delight. We must then search for the fountain or spring of joy in order to discover that which provides lasting and real happiness. That fountain, of course, is God.

David is a character who seems to have experienced all the temporal joys that creation had to offer. He also seems to have experienced all the tragedy that creation could offer as well. Whether by sin or just the sheer providence of God, David endured the death of loved ones, the terror of being pursued by those who wanted to kill him, the slander of his enemies, and certainly many other dilemmas as well. Yet, in his most trying circumstances he could declare the source of his joy or the reason for his joy:

Psalms 43:2-4 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy? {3} O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. {4} Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. David forcefully proclaims that God is not merely the giver of joy, but here rather that God is his joy. God is the pure fountain of joy. To the one who implicitly trusts God, God is joy. But David qualifies such joy. He describes God as his exceeding joy. Perhaps an accurate meaning of the phrase "exceeding joy" is that God was the joy of David’s rejoicing. He found that in all his rejoicing and delight, God was the joy of that rejoicing. He could ascribe all rejoicing in his life to God as his joy. Any joy that he would ever find of value and lasting significance was to be discovered entirely and only in God. He describes this in other words in another Psalm: Psalms 4:6-7 There be many that say, Who will show us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. {7} Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. Here David proclaims the power of God to increase his joy more than any joy that wine and corn or any other possession could give to those around him. It was God who put gladness in the heart of David. The fountain of joy created gladness for David, and therefore he was not hesitant to ascribe praise and glory to God for giving him this gladness of heart. David sets forth the ultimate motive in God for causing joy in His people: Psalms 30:11-12 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, {12} so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever. We find our source of joy in God, as God, and by God, for the sole purpose of praising God.

However, we also find David discussing the reasons for his lack of joy in this Psalm of immense sorrow:

Psalms 38 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. {2} For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. {3} There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. {4} For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. {5} My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness; {6} I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning. {7} For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. {8} I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. {9} O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. {10} My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes--it also has gone from me. {11} My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off. {12} Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long. {13} But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak. {14} Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort. {15} But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O LORD my God, who will answer. {16} For I pray, "Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips." {17} For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me. {18} I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. {19} Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. {20} Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good. {21} Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me; {22} make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation. Because of his sin, his sorrow increased. The hand of the Lord was heavy upon him, certainly representing the anguish of mind because of the consequences that he explains. As a result of his sin his companions and friends left him. David, with riches immeasurable and friends surrounding him perhaps struggled with the very issues we do. He probably sought his satisfaction and joy in the temporal pleasure of friends and companions. He certainly sought this temporal joy and pleasure with Bathsheba. Hence, he earned the gossip of his enemies and they began to seek his life and destruction. Even in his striving to do them good, they hated him wrongfully. It seems that David was expounding upon the results of sin, no matter how sorry he was for that sin. He pleaded for God to come to his rescue. Through this he describes himself as mourning, groaning, spent, crushed, experiencing tumult of heart, affliction...all of which seem so contradictory to other statements of his mental and spiritual condition: Psalms 21:1-6 In your strength the king rejoices, O LORD, and in your help how greatly he exults! {2} You have given him his heart's desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah {3} For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold on his head. {4} He asked you for life; you gave it to him-- length of days forever and ever. {5} His glory is great through your help; splendor and majesty you bestow on him. {6} You bestow on him blessings forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. Though this particular passage could very well be referring to the New Covenant experience for the one who has Christ dwelling in his or her heart, yet David was able to experience the anticipatory joy of such a time. To a degree, we all are somewhat like David in our Christian experience—one moment exulting in Christ and delighting in His presence with us, and the next moment downcast and filled with sorrow and anguish because of our disobedience to Him. But David was able to return to the great truth that God could and did turn his sorrow into laughter and joy. He recognized God as the source of joy and the one who had the power to create joy in life.

During the time of Israel when they were rebuilding the Temple after having returned from the Babylonian captivity, Israel experienced great joy:

Nehemiah 12:43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off. Again, here we see that God is the one who alone has the ability to make His people rejoice, and that with great joy. During such a sad time as Israel’s captivity, God would hear their cry unto Him for deliverance. And then He in His compassion would bestow this "great joy" upon them. He would make them rejoice. An important observation should be made: this is not a passive event that God merely allows to happen. His compassion would incline Him to be actively involved in actually making His people have great joy. In His good pleasure He saw fit to delight in turning the hearts of an otherwise sorrowful people into a people rejoicing with great joy.

Finding God as our source of joy is the first step in experiencing true joy. We must recognize that it is His delight to give joy. It is His privilege and pleasure to be our joy and the source of every joyful experience we have. It is imperative that we ascribe to God alone the ability to give joy, to make us rejoice, and thus we will find ourselves delighting in Him and thanking Him for that joy and for being the fountain and source of that joy.

Ward Fenley