Smiling on the Inside?

Smiling on the Inside? September 24, 2012

How are Christians supposed to obey the command:“Rejoice in the Lord always”? Let’s admit it: Life is hard. The news is scary.Our world is filled with hardship and disaster. What can we do to sustain realjoy in our lives, especially if we keep both eyes open to the horrors andheartaches around us?

Typically, I think Christians have tried to draw adistinction between joy and happiness, going something like this: “Happiness isa feeling, and it’s based on the circumstances outside you. Joy is a choice,and it’s based on what’s inside you.” But I think that answer fails for severalreasons.

First, both happiness and joy are spontaneous andemotional. The reason some Christians try to distinguish joy from happiness isprobably a sense that joy is deliberate and strong while happiness isspontaneous and superficial. But in reality—and this is crucial—joy isnot an internal disposition we can simply choose with our will. Joy is a giftfrom God, a work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17; Gal 5:22; 1 Thes 1:6). We can’tjust “choose joy.” Rather, it spontaneously erupts as a felt sense of delightin our heart, just like happiness (cf. 1 Pt 1:8).

Second, the Bible concerns itself with both ourhappiness and our joy. For example, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).And “How happy are the people whose God is the Lord” (Ps 144:15; cf. Deut33:29; Is 52:7). So, even if joy and happiness are distinct, God expects usto have both.

Third, I don’t think we can successfully separatefeelings of happiness from a sense of joy in our own soul. Even if there is adifference between happiness and joy (which I doubt), practically it’s ameaningless one because we are unable to experience the difference. Howconvincing is it to say: “The frown on my face is only circumstantial, becausedeep inside I’m quivering with joy”? People who talk this way don’t possesssuperior self-awareness or outstanding willpower. Nope. They’re either beingnaive or they’re lying. Joy in the heart shows up as a smile on the face. Noexceptions.

So how should we deal with this crucial question ofmaintaining joy in a joy-stealing world? Whatever we suggest for an answer,let’s not pass over the question glibly and say with a self-satisfied nod,“Well, I’m smiling on the inside.”