20 February 2009

A Bagatelle on the Virtue of Joy

by Phil Johnson

on't make the mistake of equating levity and humor with the fruit of the Spirit. They aren't the same thing. Obviously, joy can produce laughter, but laughter is a fruit of joy, not the essence of joy.

In fact, modern society is filled with jokes but almost totally devoid of real joy. Have you noticed that some of the angriest people in the world are our best-known comedians?

Laughter is often used these days to mask the utter absence of genuine gladness. Postmodern culture has made mirth and merriment cheap substitutes for authentic joy. We in the church must not make that same mistake.

I enjoy humor as much as the next person. Perhaps even a little more. But just because something is funny doesn't mean it's good.

Just a thought.
Phil's signature


Unknown said...

so, what does "real" joy look like?

Anonymous said...

"For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so it the laughter of fools; this also is vanity" (Eccl. 7:6).

Phil: too true - and we hear everywhere we go the nonstop, raucous laughter of the world. I'd go out on a limb and say a lot of this is not joy, but dissipation. Our world celebrates bawdy sin, and equates ribald laughter with joy and happiness.

We sometimes indulge this too much ourselves, don't we?

Even James Lipton, who admits he doesn't believe in God, answered his question "What sound or noise do you hate?" with "the loud, harsh laughter of the world that passes for joy." If he sees it, why shouldn't we?

Rick Frueh said...

I hate humor.
(that's funny)

"so, what does "real" joy look like?"

The writer of Hebrews says that the cross set before Him was Christ's joy. That is the same word used in Galatians for one of the fruits. From that I would suggest real joy is walking in the perfect will of God.

David Regier said...

This post was a cranky way of making your point.


If you're going to point out the world's lack of joy, you should at least mock it a little.

FX Turk said...

The tragic fact is that in our society, we think that the opposite of "sorrow" is "mirth" -- that the antidote or the antithesis of sorrow is the ability to crack wise in the face of the thing. That's not the opposite of sorrow: that's the disguise sorrow wears when it cannot be comforted.

The opposite of "sorrow" is "joy" -- so that's one definition of "joy": "the antithesis of sorrow".

So we know what joy is -not-. Not let's consider what joy -is-.

When our a beloved family member dies, our first wholly-justified reaction is sorrow. We have lost something precious which we didn't earn and cannot replace. We weep for our loss, and we mourn what we cannot have back -- and if we are expecially wise, we consider what we have also wasted in the things we have carelessly ignored when they were alive. What we have at death is sorrow.

But the antidote to sorrow is joy. And here's the thing: only the Christian can have joy at death.

Because the first thing that joy must be is hope for the future. At a funeral, those who think the afterlife is vacant, or unknown, or unnamable cannot have hope for it: they must have, in the best case, curiousity.

But for the Christian, our beloved has gone where Christ has prepared a place for them. We have lost, and Christ has won. Christ now has the one we love, and they cannot ever be taken away from Him.

One aspect of joy is hope for the future. Another is valuing the particulars hoped for. You know: if you're swimming in nickles, but you only think in terms of $5 bills -- or worse, you only think in terms of the bills you have due right now --you will never appreciate how rich you are.

Phil did a wonderful job a little while ago of pointing out that the lesson of Elijah and the widow was that God provides what we need today, even if that's not enough for tomorrow. The crazy thing that we have as Christians is the brilliant, bright hope of eternity, which makes the sad and shabby shadows we see today a nusance at best -- but often we live as the world does, "eat and drink today, for tomorrow we die."

If you value the particulars hoped for, you can't be disappointed. You can only be disappointed when you mistake the counterfeits for the real thing.

Get some joy, people. Don't substitute being a comedian for being full of joy.

donsands said...

"As a matter of fact, laughter is often used these days to mask the utter absence of genuine gladness."

Thta's a deep thought.

I know since I have been watching my Christmas gift, Get Smart, the full collection of seasons with Don Adams, I have been having some good laughs: Wholesome laughs.

It's nice to watch comedy that keeps with boundaries of, if not godliness, then wholesomeness at least.

It may not be the joy of the Spirit, but it perhpas is a godly way to laugh.

The joy of my salavtion is all inclusive of anything godly that makes me happy and blessed I would think.

And I like what Rick said about Jesus' joy.

Rick Frueh said...

Don Sands -

Max Smart: Would you believe there are 50 marines on their way this very moment?

Crook: No.

MS: Would you believe two cops in a squad car?

Crook: No.

MS: How about a retired watchman and a toothless police dog?

Humor - I love it! (Data)

Tom Austin said...

I think The Screwtape Letters covers this quite well:

"I divide the causes into human laugher into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such a time shows that they are not the real cause…the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell."

I especially love how seriously Hel takes itself.

Chris said...

"just a thought"

And oh, what an Ecclesiastical, wise thought it is! I've thought of this whenever I've heard of particular films that promote the world's values as being "comedies," or "feel good" movies, when in fact they are simply different shades of tragedy--a tragedy on a level, and of a sort, that most in the audience could never articulate with specificity, yet know precisely because God has written it upon their hearts.

Morris Brooks said...

If what Frank said is true, and I believe that it is, then truly, "The joy of the Lord is your strength."

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

I could say something pretentious and profound about fools and clowns in Shakespeare's or Beckett's plays or even American circuses, and how they are tragic characters whose comical masks cover up an underlying despair...

Or how some secular philosopher said that you can either laugh or cry at the world, and lauhing is better than crying...

Or I could make some cheap joke involving a certain well-known pastor's ripping Psalm 2:4a completely out of context—but then I would just be reinforcing (in a bad way) the point of this post...

Or I could remember that we have no reason to despair, for we look "forward to a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10).

And I could write what David instructed Asaph and his brothers to sing when the Ark of the Covenant's Exodus journey finally came to an end and it was brought up to Jerusalem:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
     make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him; sing praises to him;
     tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
     let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

(1 Chronicles 16:8-10)

Unknown said...

Solomon said that even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.
Sadly, people miss that. They laugh, thing it's joy, and then go back to their troubles; or drown their troubles with booze, noise, sex, etc.
So glad that Jesus gives us joy even in the midst of sorrow.
"As sorrowful,yet always rejoicing.."

Andrew Faris said...

Insightful stuff, Phil. The simple contradiction of the angry comedian is the perfect illustration of your point.

Anonymous said...

Tell me about it. Carlin was one of the least funny people in the world....at least to me....

Maybe I just dis-agree with his politics....lol!

Unknown said...

JOY is seeing more of Christ produced in oneself everyday.

JOY is secure since it is grounded on the faithfulness of Christ to finish that which He started in us.

The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and JOY in the Holy Ghost.

Susan said...

Frank said: "The tragic fact is that in our society, we think that the opposite of "sorrow" is "mirth" -- that the antidote or the antithesis of sorrow is the ability to crack wise in the face of the thing. That's not the opposite of sorrow: that's the disguise sorrow wears when it cannot be comforted....Get some joy, people. Don't substitute being a comedian for being full of joy."

Phil and Frank--you two have no idea how very appropriate this post is for me TODAY. These past few days I've been wisecracking here and there while at work, to the point of almost annoying (at least to myself). Today was an especially crazy day at work, and it was as if I HAD to be a smart aleck (hopefully a small one) because of all the stress. Deep down, however, I knew I had no real joy and really seriously needed the Lord to deliver me.

And then I read your post and comments!! Coincidence? Hardly. He knows and hears!! (Thank you.)

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Droll Flood said...

Regarding humor, P.G. Wodehouse wrote in an autobiographical work of his called Author! Author! the subsequent passage. Wodehouse taps into something that is true about humor, having things muddled up. Another person in some other article said that humor involves the mixing of categories. Now in Psalm 2 there’s a definite case for this, in that what the creatures are doing in the text, taking it upon themselves to be able to resist God, as though they could stop the Lord. And what does the text say? “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.”
Regarding the following text, I pulled it for the above said reasons, but I wanted to give you the context as well, giving that it’s Wodehouse. Context in Wodehouse is always worth the reading, like the whole book.

“In the sixteenth century they called humor “a disorder of the blood,” and though they were probably just trying to be nasty, it is not a bad description. It is, a disorder of something. To be a humorist, one must see the world slightly out of focus. You must, in other words, be slightly cockeyed. This leads you to ridicule established institutions, and as most people want to keep their faith in established institutions intact, the next thing that happens is that you get looked askance at. Statistics show that 87.03 of today’s askance looks are directed at humorists, for the solid citizenry suspect them and are wondering uneasily all the time what they are going to be up to next, like baby sitters with charges who are studying to be juvenile delinquents. There is an atmosphere of strain such as must have prevailed long ago when the king or prince or baron had one of those Shakespearean Fools around the castle, capering about and shaking a stick with a bladder and little bells attached to it. Tradition compelled him to employ the fellow, but nothing was going to make him like it.
“Never can understand a word that character says,” he would mutter peevishly to his wife as the Fool went capering about the throne room, jingling his bells. “Why on earth do you encourage him? It was you who started him off this morning. All that nonsense about crows!”
“I only asked him how many crows can nest in a grocer’s jerkin. Just trying to make conversation.”
“And what was his reply? Tinkling like a xylophone, he gave that awful cackling laugh of his and said, ‘ A full dozen at cockcrow, and something less under the dog star, by reason of the dew, which lies heavy on men taken with scurvy.’ Is that a system? Was that sense?”
“It was humor.”
“Who says so?”
“Shakespeare says so.”
“Who’s Shakespeare?”
“All right, George.”
“I never heard of any Shakespeare.”
“I said all right, George. Skip it.”
“Well, anyway, you can tell him from now on to keep his humor to himself, and if he hits me on the head just once more with that bladder of his, he does so at his own risk. He’s always hitting me on the head with his bladder. Every time he gets within arm’s reach of me –socko! And for that I pay him a penny a week, not deductible. He makes me sick.”
Humorists as a class are gloomy men, and it is this sense of being apart from the heard, of being as one might say, the poison-ivy rash on the body politic, that makes them so, though they have other troubles as well. As that notable humorist E.B. White says, they are looked down on by the critics, regarded as outside the pale of literature, and seldom recognized as possessing talents worth discussing. People are very serious today, and the writer who refuses to take them seriously is viewed with concern and suspicion.
“Fiddle while Rome burns, would you?” they say to him, and treat him as an outcast.”

-P.G. Wodehouse, Author! Author! p. 34-36

David said...

Great point about the Angry Comedian of our day. Such a contrast between them and Stooges, Daingerfields, and Chaplins of day's gone by. Jerry Lewis once said that he and others didn't get up there and tell funny stories. He said "WE were funny. We directed the humor at ourselves. Not point it at others." Modern comedians need to understand this.

Anonymous said...

Last fall my wife was rebuked by a Pentecostal sister during an evangelistic prison ministry weekend for "inhibiting" the "joy" of a couple pagan women as they approached a serious time in the prayer chapel. All my wife was trying to do was to get them to take the moment with a degree of reverence - as much as a pagan could, anyway.

I have been chastened as well within that ministry with "Where's the joy?" rebukes after laying out how serious sin is (but I haven't changed my message. They also haven't asked me to participate since, either. Oh, well). Evidently "joy' is only defined in some circles as the "happy, clappy worship" the White Horse Inn guys speak about. I guess John the Baptist didn't get the "joy" memo, then, either.....

Donald H. said...

I completely agree!