Friday, 19 February 2010

The duty of joy

Religions have all kinds of duties, commonplace and esoteric. (Some of the esoteric ones are a good proof that the religion in question originated in the mind of man and not God.... for example, only a man who lived in the east and was ignorant of polar regions could have come up with a binding requirement that you should fast at certain times of year whilst the sun is up. Bit tricky when the sun is up for months at a time, or if this only gives you 2 hours in the middle of the night to eat, n'est ce pas?)

Christianity, being uniquely true, has a unique and surprising duty: joy! Not only joy, but continual, permanent joy. "Rejoice in the Lord always", wrote the apostle Paul (Philippians 4:4). These were no glib words; Paul knew all about suffering and persecution - about being rejected, beaten, in fear of his life, being pressed down by all the problems of his churches, etcetera. Just a few lines later he acknowledged this all, and yet said "I have learned, in whatever condition I am in, to be content" (Philippians 4:11).

The key to rejoicing is in the words "in the Lord". The son or daughter who is heir to a king, and who knows that final victory is already won and that the crown is certain can never have more than temporary sorrow. Sorrow is real, but it can never overcome the joy. Christ has conquered, he loves us, and is returning. To not have our Christian lives characterised by joy is inconsistent. A Christian can give way to long-term depression only if he or she lets the truth take a secondary seat.

We are not meant to endure trials, teeth gritted. We are meant to rejoice through them. The pain is real - but the joy ought to be even more real. This is not pie-in-the-sky head-in-the-clouds stuff: it's following Jesus, who "for the joy set before him, endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:1-2). Amidst many trials and Christian duties we can forget that one of the truest tests of all of our faith is to see whether we go through life with joy, or not. One of the most important duties of all, by which our real standing will be seen, is to rejoice.

How are you doing?

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