“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11
This week, I was faced with the bittersweet task of saying “goodbye for now” to a friend. Deb won a battle against cancer by finding ultimate healing at the feet of Christ. She was a wife and mother, a teacher and counselor, and so much more to those who knew her. Even when her health was in decline, she found humor and joy where few could see it. I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, but since learning of her death, I’ve spent a little time reflecting on the life she lived. It’s led me to re-evaluate what it means to be joyful, and- ultimately- what Heaven must be like.
I am by nature more given to seriousness than levity. Folks that know me casually might be surprised by that last sentence, but it’s true. I can be lighthearted and goofy in conversation, and I can make small talk as well as anybody. When I’m not in a social or professional setting, though, I’m a pretty different person. I love the deep, still waters of theology and philosophy. I love that every time I find myself growing in Christ and His Word, I realize that the Lion of Judah seems to have grown larger still. If I’m honest, though, I’m also more serious because life has made me cynical. Living in a fallen world can do that. Hypocrisy and disillusionment with modern Christianity, a lack of honor within the body of Christ, personal and family health issues, a struggling economy, and poor governmental leadership can darken one’s worldview. We aren’t called to a life of cynicism and solemnity, though. We are called to be joyful. Through the Father’s will and Word, Christ’s incarnation and resurrection power, and the Spirit’s ministry, we encounter Someone Who is the Source, not just of comfort, but of mirth.
You heard me right. Mirth. Festivity. Gaiety, even. Joy takes on many forms, of course. It can be a quiet assurance amid turmoil, enjoyment of fellowship between friends, satisfaction at a job well done, or taking pleasure in God’s creation. As Christians, we often leave it at that. “Joy is passive,” we subconsciously think. “It’s serious business, unlike the fun and games and laughter we enjoy when we aren’t ‘on the clock.’ Joy is so much more spiritual than mere enjoyment.” Oh, but how we miss the mark. To be sure, many forms of entertainment and pleasure are mindless and foolish, “carnivals” in the truest sense of the word. Mirth is a very different sort of thing, though. In this active sense, joy can become a celebration or noisy excitement. It can be fierce and intense. It is this active form of joy that is missing in so many lives today. It is this sort of joy that my friend and colleague Deb understood so well. As I’ve said before, when she laughed, it was as if Heaven’s joy had somehow spilled over onto the Earth below. It is this sort of joy we need more of in our Christianity.
We may as well get used to mirth and festivity, anyway. While sacrifice, suffering, and weariness are so prominent in our world today, it will not always be so. If we could see beyond the veil that separates Earth from Heaven, we would see that the shadow is just a passing thing. In Heaven, the permanent thing will be supreme joy. Beauty instead of ashes. Rejoicing instead of sorrow. Dancing instead of drudgery.
Picture for a moment Jesus’ first miracle. There is no wine for the wedding, so Jesus has the servants fill large vessels to the brim with water, and- behold!- the water is turned to wine, a symbol of joy and merriment and blessing in the Bible. The servants are then commanded to dip their pitchers into the large vessels and provide refreshments to the wedding guests. The servants do as they are told, but as they dip the pitchers into the larger vessels, the wine overflows. No matter, though, as there are around 150 gallons remaining for the guests. The wedding’s “master of ceremonies” is surprised by its quality, and modern critical “scholars” are concerned by its quantity. The wine is too good for one, and there is too much of it for the others! It’s an extravagant miracle that seems a bit too over the top for a little wedding in Cana.
Oh, but how perfect the image of the overflowing wine is! The Eternal Kingdom will be a place flooded with joy and merriment and blessing. We will experience intense relief and comfort there, and we will see revelry take its rightful place in our lives, for there the Source of all beauty, and wonder, and goodness sits enthroned. As Lewis puts it in The Last Battle: “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” Any student (or teacher, for that matter) can tell you the anticipation that surrounds Christmas vacation. One day, we will enjoy Christmas vacation unending. That doesn’t make final exams sound so bad, now does it?