Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Joy to the World

Posted by robf on December 23, 2009

Since this is the time of year we sing about angels coming to proclaim joy to the world, maybe it’s a good time to ask what we really know about joy?

We can all probably quote a few scriptures about joy–“men are that they might have joy” and something about morning stars singing and Sons of God shouting for joy–but what does this all mean? What is joy? Is it just an emotion? Where does it come from? What is the difference between joy and happiness? What is so important about it that our whole existence is wrapped up in our having it (2 Nephi 2:25)?

What sparked these thoughts for me today come from my reading in the Book of Mormon. I’m about to wrap up the Book of Ether and I am interested in how Moroni interrupts his account of the horrible destruction of Jaredite society with an injunction that the reader “seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the HOly Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever” (Ether 12:41).

What does that have to do with joy? I have a little footnote to this verse that I wrote sometime ago about grace, at least as it is used in the New Testament, coming from the Greek charis–a noun that can mean something like “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm.”

So how is joy tied to grace? How might this change how we understand what it means to “have” joy (or grace, even)?

I usually read about having the grace of God to mean something like obtaining God’s good favor. What if instead, “having” the grace of God meant something like my favoring him, my finding God or Christ to afford me pleasure or joy? What if the grace of God isn’t a goodwill that he has towards me, but a pleasure or joy that I find in him? Is Moroni asking us to seek Jesus so that we can have joy in him? Is this orientation towards God the joy that we are to “have” as described in 2 Nephi 2:25?

I’ve probably just been blind for most of my life, but this seemed like a totally different way of being oriented this morning. Delighting in Jesus. Serving Jesus. Seeking to do his will, so that his grace–that about him that gives me joy–can be and abide in me forever.

While our world is full of turmoil, or as the Jaredite society crumbles, we are to seek Jesus to have this joy, to have his grace by taking pleasure and joy in our serving him. This is the good news of the gospel. The message of peace and joy brought by the angels.

I’m sure I’m not being as articulate as I’d like, so I’ll just end it here, and see if this sparks any other thoughts about grace and joy.

5 Responses to “Joy to the World”

  1. Robert C. said

    Rob, I like this a lot.

    I remember a related idea being expressed by some General Authority during a mission conference where we discussed the various meanings of the preposition “of” in the phrase “the pure love of Christ” in Moroni 7:47. His suggestions was that it implied at least 3 meanings: our love toward Christ, his love toward us, and his love toward everyone (i.e., Christ-like love). What I think is so interesting, however, is how love, grace and joy are synergistic, if you’ll excuse the Coveyism here. In Shakespeare’ terms, love (like mercy) is “twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (Merchant of Venice). I think the symbolism of the sacrament—i.e., communion—should be understood this way, Christ first giving(/loving in 1 John) to us, and blessing us, but then when we receive this gift gratefully, we are both blessed by the love being offered, and offering a kind of blessing to Christ by receiving this gift.

    I’ve been thinking about this double-nature of love, joy and mercy largely because these multiplicative effects are all overlooked in typical economic thought. I think psychologists (and, thus, behavioral economists) have started to think about these kinds of effects, but I think sacred/religious writing and thought is far and away the best source for thinking about these effects, in contradistinction to secular thought. And I think this is one of the reasons that secular thought is so blind to the dangers of sexual promiscuity and desensitization (as sex becomes absorbed into consumer/economic culture, away from sacred, familial and religious roles and significance…).

  2. KirkC said

    Of course, there are many ways to look at joy, and you have both done a fine job of laying out definitions for the word. One way I like to look at joy, is in terms of “freedom” or “deliverance” from bondage. Joy is not being trapped somewhere you do not want to be.

    In Luke 2:10 an angel says, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” From this, we know one of the missions of Jesus was to bring joy to the world. In verse 11, the angel explains how that happens. The angel says, “born this day…a saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

    Luke 2:11 is the only verse that I know of (but I am wrong all of the time) that uses the three major offices of Jesus in succession: Savior, Christ, Lord.

    We might look at it like this:
    Christ=Anointed King

    So what is the great “joy” that is coming into the world? It is the Savior, or deliverer. He can deliver us from bondage. So when I think about joy, I think about being free from whatever ties me down, or keeps me from where I want to be. Maybe that is why nobody is joyful when they are drug addicted or in jail. Joy is incompatible with bondage.

    Grace is then simply a free gift from God to release one from bondage, thus bringing one joy. Of course, exaltation is the ultimately joy, because there is found the ultimate freedom from bondage and a maximum amount of grace.

  3. joespencer said

    I really like this. Without getting too academic, I will say that one of the things I really like about (French) psychoanalysis is the way it problematizes precisely this notion: “joy” (in French, jouissance). In short, its problematization amounts to an entanglement of every experience of joy within a framework of imposed law. Of course, psychoanalysis, seeing itself as interminable more than terminable, does not see a way to liberate joy from this entanglement with law–at least not in any direct sense. But by tying joy to grace, and by noting the relationship between grace and law, I wonder if what you’re spelling out here might allow us to recognize grace as being precisely what releases joy from its enslavement to law: to be in grace is finally to enjoy the work, rather than always to be working so as to save oneself, slaving for salvation.

  4. KirkC said

    “wonder if what you’re spelling out here”

    Who is the “you’re” you are refering to Joe? Are you responding to the OP, or to one of us?

  5. joespencer said

    I was talking to Rob, sorry.

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