The Primordial Nature of Joy

Praise God in the SunsetThe most infuriatingly sublime aspect about Joy is that it can not be controlled or harnessed.  It can not be summoned by an act of will. True Joy simply occurs at the most unexpected moments; then it vanishes, like a wisp of smoke. It is more fleeting than infancy.

I do not think God originally intended Joy to be fleeting. There is good reason to believe God wanted it to be a constant state for humanity in constant communion with Him. The Garden of Eden was a place for sublime Joy. Bliss. Ecstasy. The loss of constant and complete Joy from the human condition was a consequence of the Fall.

Joy is a byproduct being close to God. Joy reflects something of His divine character. Joy increases in frequency the closer we draw to God. Conversely, Joy fades the further away we move from God.

I’m continually struck by the tenderness of the account of creation in the book of Genesis. God created the heavens and the earth: Out of chaos He made a universe of order. Out of formlessness, emptiness and darkness, God brought light, structure, and substance (Genesis 1.1-14).

The world teemed with plant and animal life (verse 20-24). God declared it all to be good (verse 9 &12b, 18, 21b, 25b). Not only did God see that His creation was good, He blessed it (verse 22). Into this good and blessed environment God created humanity (in His own image) as the climax of His creativity (Verses 26-27). Once this was accomplished, God looked at his creation said it was very good (Verse 30).[1] Genesis tells us that God placed Adam in a garden in the eastern part of Eden with every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.[2]

Eden was ideal for nurturing joy. Man was saturated with the most important ingredients and sources of all true Joy: an intimate love-relationship with God, a sense of belonging, and a divinely appointed purpose (to tend the Garden). The Fall ruined the state of complete and continual Joy.

S. Lewis said “Joy is the serious business of heaven” ? and so it is. To be in the presence of God is the ultimate Joy or the ultimate terror, depending upon what we do with the question of sin and how we respond to the second figure in the Triune God: Jesus Christ.

Centuries after the Garden of Eden, Jesus referred to joy being complete:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My commandment is this: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15.5-12)

Whereas the first Adam brought death, Christ is the “last Adam” who brings life.[3]  Christ brings life to people dead in sin. He reveals the true meaning of love and restores joy. Jesus himself tells us about how to make joy complete once again.  Granted it is not like the pre-Fall Joy of Eden because Original Sin cut the clarity of the earth-joy connection. But real joy comes still comes from God. Real joy flows through Christ, like nutrients moving through branches.

Notice that Christ’s imagery is so fitting with creation and nature: Vines and branches and men bearing fruit. Fruitful lives bring glory to God. Again, we find ingredients and sources of all true Joy: they are an intimate love-relationship with God, a sense of belonging, and a divinely appointed purpose.

This is only possible when people are intimately connected with the Vine, which is Christ. Without this spiritual connection we can do nothing that brings glory to God. The Father’s Love was in His Son and his Son’s love is in His followers—the “children of God.” Saint John put it this way.

But to those who did accept him [Christ] he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1.12-14)

John’s language shifts to that of a family and adoption, through the personal choice of faith. This biblical passage taken from the first chapter of the Gospel of John begins with the same words that start the book of Genesis: “In the beginning”.

The same source of divine love that created all life (so powerfully described in the first chapters of Genesis) is the same redemptive Grace behind Christ’s Incarnation. This love is behind its creative act of man’s spiritual regeneration “to those who believe in his name”. It is so movingly described in the first eighteen verses of John 1, and ending in a forceful affirmation of Jesus’ deity.

[1] The New International Version Study Bible (Zondervan, 1985), footnote to Genesis 1.1 addresses this tenderness and joy:  “The truth of this majestic verse was joyfully affirmed by poet (Ps. 102.25) and prophet (Isa 40.21). …The positive, life-oriented teaching of v.1 is beautifully summarized in Isa 45.18.”

[2]In Genesis 2.9, we are told the tree of Life was in the midst of the garden as was the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

[3]Romans 5.12, 1Corinthians 15.21-22 & 45, (cf . Genesis 3.23 & Revelation 22.14.)

Mark Davis Pickup is chronically ill and disabled with degenerative multiple sclerosis. He is an advocate for life issues and disability inclusion across North America. He and his wife, LaRee, have been married for 38 years. They live in Alberta Canada with their two adult children and five grandchildren. Mark is available to address issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and issues revolving around suffering that often fuel calls for euthanasia. He writes regularly at http://markpickup.org and http://humanlifematters.org. For bookings, contact him by e-mail at [email protected] or telephone (780) 929-9230. Mark Pickup's bi-weekly column can be read in the Western Catholic Reporter (Canada) at http://www.wcr.ab.ca/.