The Giver of Joy

The 2013 Advent Blog that my church is hosting continues to run.  Here was my recent post on the topic of JOY:

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of  Christ.  Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three lovely daughters.  He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

Is this an early Christian mission OR one of pop music’s teen idols battling for survival?

fansIn Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas have to fight off adoring fans. While preaching the Gospel with the city of Lystra, they healed a local cripple, sending the crowd into bedlam. The whispers-turned-to-shouts begin to revolve around a theory that the two missionaries are actually Zeus and Hermes mingling among humanity.

Paul and Barnabas were having none of it:

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

That last sentence recently grabbed my Advent-tuned mind.

Paul_and_Barnabas_at_Lystra_-_1650Paul and Barnabas credited God as the Maker and Manager of all things, who refuses to micromanage. Instead, they observed this Overseer allowing for freedom, while providing low-key, you-will-need-to-listen-carefully testimony of His constant presence.

According to non-Zeus and non-Hermes, one of the things that argues for God is joy.

This intrigues.

One of the classic lines of doubt in God’s existence springs from a simple theory: If evil is in the world, surely God is not.  The question here connects with every heart that has hurt. In times of pain, it springs so quickly that one has no chance to even assess its substance on its way out.

In the struggle to believe in a God who hasn’t already obliterated evil, some turn to a worldview that involves no deity at all.  We were not created; we evolved. There is no Plan; just the ones we make. Life, by its nature, is utilitarian. The strong (ie: useful, functional, advantageous) survive, whether you speak of traits or ideas or people.  To observe Darwin’s theory in moths changing colour is one thing; to extend his thoughts into an overarching interpretation of reality is another.

This is where one consideration demands more attention: What to do with fun? Beauty? Pleasure?

In a world void of any good and gracious Provider, in a world governed by “the strong survive”, how does one interpret joy?

In matters of God, airtight argument is like the Holy Grail. It’s longed-for, but the longer you seek it, the less you believe it exists. Knowledge of spiritual things requires a different processor than mere reasoning, much to my logic-loving chagrin. Gratefully, I have been kindly chided into confession that it is a very good thing that there is more going on than I can grasp.

In a world that I could entirely understand, nonsense like joy would have no place.

Loose ThreadNineteen centuries ago, Paul and Barnabas contended that joy was a loose strand, begging to be tugged on.

Give it a pull.

If you do, it will pull back.