Part of being human, it appears, is to crave joy. What is the Christian understanding of joy? As evangelists, is it possible for us to go overboard in describing the joys of post-conversion life? It is not long before a new Christian discovers that suffering may well be part of the walk. It might take a lifetime to grasp how the joy of faith can supersede suffering.
C.S. Lewis discusses the elusive nature of joy in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy (London: HarperCollins) 1955. His personal definition of joy-"an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction (p. 18)"-leads him into an intellectual and spiritual journey which culminates in his acceptance of the Christian gospel.
The countless allusions that Lewis makes in this book are probably best appreciated by people who have doctorates in literature and philosophy. Still, the book is clear and candid. Lewis abandoned the Christian religion as a young man and spent many years finding his way back to it.
The journey was complicated and, it seems, tortuous. Lewis describes his state of mind at one point:
The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow 'rationalism.' Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless (p.197).
"Grim and meaningless" may well have been an understatement for a young man who had volunteered for duty and fought in the trenches in the First World War.
In the end did Lewis find God or did God find him?
As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful valley of Ezekiel's, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its grave cloths, and stood upright and became a living presence. I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer (p.264).
Lewis was a reluctant convert. He describes his search for God as "the mouse's search for the cat (p.265)."
Lewis went from Rationalism to Idealism to Theism. The final leap to Christianity was the least difficult. He describes the unique nature of the Gospels:
If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted . . .(p.274). Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not 'a religion,' nor 'a philosophy.' It is the summing up and actuality of them all (p.274).
This is a spectacular affirmation of the faith. However reluctant Lewis's search for God may have been, his conversion was final and fruitful. He went on, as is well known, to write many books and do great things for the kingdom of God.
But what of "joy," that mysterious emotion that Lewis sought after for so many years? In the final pages of his book, he claims to have lost interest in the subject!
But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer (p.276).
That "something other and outer" puts human joy in perspective. What seems fleeting and elusive now will be in full abundance in the fields of eternal paradise. God's people can avail themselves of a stable and sustaining joy as they wend their way through the trials of mortal life; and they can look forward to a divine continuing joy in the hereafter.
Habakkuk 3:19 (ESV):
Though the fig tree should not blossom
nor fruit be on the vines
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
In joyful fellowship,
Patrick McKitrick more...