Joy is not happiness. We think it is, but it’s not. How do we know? Because Peter makes it clear that it co-exists with grief (look up chapter 1 and read from verse 3, see what I mean?). Happiness changes with emotion, joy co-exists with emotions. Which of course should lead us to a conclusion: joy isn’t an emotion.
I’ve written before on how longing is the ground of joy, but a friend pointed out that I didn’t actually define joy in that piece. A fair criticism, that if I’m honest was because I was still trying to find a neat way of saying what I wanted to and feared that an around the subject rumination would take the length of four usual posts and perhaps not leave you wiser at the end.
So, foolishly, I’m going to attempt that now. As my jumping off point I want to start with 1 Peter 1.8-9.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Is your life characterised by a joy inexpressible that is filled with glory? Hearts around the world sink as they read the question. It probably isn’t because what you’re picturing is effervescent extroverts who act like they’re modelling for a Coke advert all the time.
Your life may not be characterised by a joy inexpressible that is filled with glory, but I do wonder if part the problem is our expectations. I pulled that quote out of 1 Peter without the context. He’s just told them that they’re going to suffer, they should expect to know grief, and they live in a time that is dying while (he hints) belonging to a time that has yet to be birthed. He is not writing to a bunch of happy clappy charismatics (though joy is for them too) who are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly use—he’s writing to people who know challenge, ostracism, difficulty, and the mind-numbingly cold embrace of grief.
The grammar of the Greek tells us that this is not a command, but a description. Thank goodness.