Joy In God
By Ward Fenley
Chapter 4
The Temporal Joy of the World

In the book of Job we read of a man who had virtually everything a person could want. The Bible describes Job as the greatest of all men in the east. One day God saw fit to take away from Job his possessions and his children. Jobís response seems too perfect to be possible:

Job 1:21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job was aware that God in His sovereignty was in control of not only what Job received but also what Job lost. Eventually Job was afflicted with boils from his head to his toes. He began to complain against God. During this time three of Jobís "friends" began to accuse Job of unrighteousness and that his unrighteousness was the reason for his affliction. Job defended himself even ultimately to a fault as far as God was concerned. In fact there were several dialogues between Job and each of these three men concerning the reasons for Job being afflicted. Many of the accusations these men brought against Job were false and made in hypocrisy. However, some of their statements were profoundly and sometimes obviously true. One of these men, Zophar, asked this rhetorical question to Job: Job 20:4-5 Do you not know this from of old, ever since mortals were placed on earth, {5} that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless is but for a moment? The answer to this question is clear, as Zophar implies. When the wicked experience joy in this world, their joy is temporal. It is the momentary "joy of the godless." There is no lasting joy in their lives. It simply satisfies them temporally. And when they pursue that joy and continue to rebel against God, the Bible describes them: Psalms 92:7 When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever: This radical statement emphasizes the momentary satisfaction of the "flourishing" or joy of the wicked. What appears to be a gleeful experience of the wicked will ultimately be for their everlasting destruction, should they continue to rebel against God. So not only do unbelievers not have any deep and lasting joy in this life; they also are destroyed forever, never to experience the eternal joy of God. Though ever so bleak, yet this truth should be a startling reality to those who pursue the temporary joys of this world.

Before the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple during the time of Nehemiah, Israel was in captivity under the Babylonian Empire. Their Temple was destroyed and their city burnt. Their religion was essentially destroyed for that present time. This great people who had been so blessed by God were in a time of hardship and what to them seemed as if all was lost. God was punishing them for their sins, idolatry, self-righteousness, and their longing for the temporal joys of the world. In the woeful book of Lamentations, Jeremiah describes that which had come upon the Israelites. He describes the cessation of their temporal joys:

Lamentations 5:14-17 The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music. {15} The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning. {16} The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned! {17} For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim. In the heart of the Israelites there was no positive outlook. There was nothing that would encourage them. Everything had been lost. The joy they had experienced in religion and the countries and pleasures around them suddenly had forsaken them. Those joys that pacified their hearts had come to an end. The only vision they had was one of gloom and dimness. They had lost all the idols in which they had trusted. For them the idols were self-righteousness, protection from other countries, and the stature of being the nation whom the surrounding countries had come to respect.

To get a glimpse of this problem in our present generation, let us consider the various idols we serve. Certainly the idols of fame and power still plague us. And of course money and possessions affect us. We look to all those things to give us temporary joy. However, one of the greatest vices primarily for the religious person is the joy of self-righteousness. This is often a very hidden vice. Many do not realize that they get great satisfaction out of their religion and "obedience." The idols of money, power, fame, etc. many times can be obvious. However, self-righteousness is not always obvious, for in it we feel as if we are doing right. We feel that it is a God-honoring thing. However, if our minds are finding joy in our own "good deeds," then we may be caught in the grip of a religion of works rather than a religion of grace. It is very easy to accept credit in our minds for what we perceive as great obedience to God. We fall so easily into the trap of enjoying what outstanding citizens and church-goers we are. We often find great delight in our regular giving to churches or charitable organizations, thinking that doing such earns favor with God. Israel, in their profession to love the Mosaic law, transgressed that law. In looking to the law which God gave them to reveal their sin (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:19), they instead trusted in their obedience to that law to gain them favor in Godís sight. God views such trust as self-righteousness and actually transgression of that very law. In Isaiah, Israelís delight in that law would end in her shame and derision and the cessation of her joy:

Isaiah 24:5-11 The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. {6} Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. {7} The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merryhearted do sigh. {8} The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth. {9} They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it. {10} The city of confusion is broken down: every house is shut up, that no man may come in. {11} There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone. Notice the emphasis on the cessation of joy: "the merryhearted do sigh" (vs.7); "the mirth (joy) of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth." (vs.8); "all joy is darkened"; and "the mirth of the land is gone" (vs.11). The joy they experienced is proven to be a joy that was not founded upon God and His ability to give joy, but rather it was a joy that was founded upon wine, music, and song. Is it wrong to get joy out of wine, music, and song? Absolutely not. However, when we begin to shift our affections to the objects of wine, music, and song rather than keeping our affections riveted upon the Creator of those objects, that is when we begin to erect those objects as idols rather than viewing them as vehicles by which we can thank and praise God. When we set them up as idols, it is then that one of two things will happen. If we are Godís children, He will take those idols away from us and turn our hearts toward Him as our Father (Lamentations 5:21), or if we are not His children, we could be in danger of His judgment Galatians 5:19-21).

It is not, however, the intent of this chapter to place emphasis on the ultimate end of the unbeliever, for the end of the unbeliever is entirely a different subject. But it is my desire in this chapter to present to the believer and unbeliever the inescapable fact that there is no continuance in the joy that this world has to offer.

Sometimes people have a tendency to go to extremes: If we examine the world with eyes that see fulfillment in created objects and experiences apart from Godís involvement, we will be sorely disappointed, as we have seen above. However, we can go to the opposite extreme and begin to view the objects and experiences in this world as evil in and of themselves. This too can be a tragedy and lead to depression. So then, please do not understand this chapter to be a chapter encouraging us to despise things like money, hobbies, fun, etc. Certainly it is my desire to encourage everyone to despise self-righteousness and idolatry, but when we are dealing with actual created things, we must be careful to not ascribe to them animation and morality beyond what God has given them. We are to have a balance. We should always strive to not pursue the vain and shallow joys of this world, but rather we should seek to find the true joy that God offers not only through eternal life in Jesus Christ, but also through all of the material and spiritual creation. But how do we do this and maintain a balance? Hopefully the following chapters will give a fresh and yet ancient answer to this very important question.

Ward Fenley