Manufactured Positivity and the Surprising Source of True Joy
I was driving to meet some friends for lunch today as back-to-back Van Morrison songs played on my car stereo. The first was a hook-heavy ditty called “No Religion,” in which the Belfast crooner decries the purported naivety of all so-called faith-systems, particularly Christianity. “It’s a choice between fact and fiction” he argues, and goes on to scold, “It’s so cruel to expect the savior to save the day.”
The next Morrison song to play was “Underlying Depression.” (These two are actually the fifth and sixth tracks on Morrison’s 1995 album Days Like This.) In “Underlying Depression” the songwriter laments, “Underlying depression, have to crawl into my room / there’s just nowhere to turn / Underlying depression and I just can’t get it right/ Have to fight it with all my might.”
It struck me as more than a little ironic—and maybe this was intentional by the legendary artist—that a song essentially mocking anyone who believes in a personal God or a real Savior would be immediately followed by a song bemoaning the emptiness and misery of life on this earth.
This succession of songs made me think: perhaps joy doesn’t come from where we often think to look.
It seems like I hear a lot these days about the need for pastors and teachers to speak more about joy. And I couldn’t agree more. What I struggle with is the perceived source of that joy. What I hear being presented is more a manufactured positivity than joy. “Be happy,” one well-known pastor extols, “because things in your life are about to change for the better!” But how does he know that? Another popular preacher contends, “It may look like the difficulty is going to defeat you. But you WILL emerge victorious. Your joy is unstoppable.” Uh … ok.
Is believing that you have the inner strength to conquer any challenge the same as joy? Sounds more like wishful thinking to me.
True joy, the kind we see in the Scriptures actually comes not as we “speak our happiness into existence,” nor as we ignore our brokenness and inability, but as we acknowledge our brokenness and experience God’s forgiveness.
After he committed infidelity with Bathsheba and orchestrated the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, King David went through one of the darkest times of his life. Every part of his body ached. “When I kept silent,” David whispered in Psalm 32, “my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long … my strength was drained. … Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my iniquity.”
After he confessed his sin to God and experienced the power of God’s forgiveness, David could write: “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! … The one who trusts in the Lord will have faithful love surrounding him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice!”
I want to talk even more about joy, don’t you? But let’s not get it twisted. There is no lasting joy apart from a restored relationship with our true Father. Nevertheless, we can be restored! Because of Jesus’ cross-work, we can know for certain that God is for us and not against us, and that he will not let anything separate us from himself. Furthermore, we can be equally assured that when God looks at us, he sees us as perfect, beautiful and beloved, because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by faith.
I would love to be able to promise you that tomorrow your life is going to be amazing (insert cool emojis here)! But we don’t know what tomorrow holds. Things could get worse. Fortunately, however, as the old hymn says, “we know who holds tomorrow.” And if you are in Christ, while your happiness may wax and wane, your moods may vacillate, and your “flesh is wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16), you can trust in this: the one who redeemed you is with you and will sustain you by his mercy and grace.
Rather than “speak your joy into existence”—whatever that means—why not acknowledge your weakness and lean into the one in whose presence there is true joy. “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
By his grace,