It is increasingly rare that the words “theology” and “joy” find themselves together. The examples of people who (publicly) talk theology are far too often dour or grumpy. Affable on a good day, perhaps. But joyful? Not so much.
And that’s a shame because it’s one of the things I love most about theology. It’s why I care about it and why I study it. Why I write about it and talk about it and read about it. Theology is all about joy.
How do we know joy and theology belong together?
Because it’s all about realigning our intellects and our affections, it means it changes the object of our joy. And what is that joy? The only One who can ever satisfy us: Jesus Christ, God himself, who has given us great cause for joy. God, the Word, the one through whom and for whom the world was made came into the world to rescue sinful image-bearers who denied him!
All true, biblically sound theology draws us to Jesus. It reminds us why we have cause for joy. And it helps us make sense of the Bible’s repeated calls for joy—why the Bible tells us to be joyful:
- “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
- The fruit of the Spirit is “joy.” (Gal. 5:22)
- In the Lord’s “presence is abundant joy.” (Psalm 16:11)
The object of joy the Scriptures point to isn’t stuff, nor is it our spouse, nor our circumstances, nor even our kids (especially not our kids). It is Jesus, God himself. He is the only one that can every satisfy us. He is what we need to be truly joyful people.
Jesus, the source of our joy
Augustine, one of the church’s greatest theologians, understood this well. In his Confessions, he wrote, “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.”1
The Westminster Divines also understood this truth, summarizing the entire reason we exist as glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Which when you stop and think is amazing—our entire reason for being is to enjoy God!
But it’s easy to forget, isn’t it? Joy takes effort. Effort fueled by faith, but effort nonetheless. There’s always something to try to rob us of our joy, to keep us from being hope-filled people. One of those things for me has been unhealthy work environments, something I shared about several years ago. Another has been all the little logistical things involved with changing jobs and moving countries. These things all want to eat at my joy, to keep me focused on anything other than Jesus.
But who wants to be around someone who is focused primarily on what’s wrong? Who wants to be the guy or girl who is always pointing out the cloud that accompanies the silver lining? These kinds of people are miserable to be around because they are miserable themselves. They have no good news to tell. They have no joy. But faithful theology reminds us that we’re not the point. We are not at the center of the story God’s telling. We have a different hero, a different source of joy: Jesus, the one who is always the point of sound Christian theology.And this is good news—joyful news! It is joyful news leads to joyful people. And joyful people spread that joy as it overflows from them into the world.
Caring about joy means caring about theology
This is why I care so deeply about theology: because I care about joy, yours and mine. I’m tired of running after substitutes that can’t satisfy, just as I am tired of sermons and books that try to strongarm believers into doing what they ought.They need to be taught that these things matter, without question. But guilt and shame aren’t required. Instead, we need to help others see essential acts like giving, evangelism, missions, acts of compassion and hospitality, as acts of worship. As acts that spring forth from an overwhelming, theologically rich joy in Jesus.
So let me ask you something: where is your joy? What is threatening to steal your joy from you right now? And what role does your theology play in all this? It doesn’t always mean you’re going to be happy. You might have a long season of darkness in your life. But as we keep our focus on Jesus, the only true object of our joy, it will change how we respond. As we open the Scriptures and see that they’re all about Jesus, it will inspire us. As we Jesus as he is, so captivating in his beauty and power and authority, it will lead us to worship him with greater fullness.
- Augustine, Confessions, IX.1