When I started this series on Joy it was and is an honest attempt to understand it, to teach it and to live it to the best of my ability. If I am being honest, I have grown tired of clichés, even though they are true, I do not want the joy of the clichés but rather the Joy that is mine, and I want to recognize it because I don’t want somebody else’s opinion on a bumper sticker or oft spoken cliché. I want it from the source, the ultimate Truth.
It was also not my intention to tie so much of this series into current events, but as I write this, over 50 people lost their lives and another 500 injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The ripple effect across the nation cannot be ignored. A simple flip of the TV remote leaves us all stunned with warm tears running down our already tired faces as there as been very little to smile about lately. This country is almost at its limit for heartbreak and many are left trying to find words; and all of us are left trying to find anything to trump the utter feelings of sadness and despair. Because none of this makes sense, none of us are “exceedingly glad”, none of us are “leaping” but we can all sympathize, as Paul asked the church at the end of chapter 2, where his circumstances were less than stellar, heartbreaking, I would say. Before we get back to Paul, I wanted to share with you a verse that has me scratching my head; maybe we can get through it together!
I Peter 4:12-13 (NIV)
“Dear Friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange has happened to you. But rejoice as you participate in the sufferings of Christ. So that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”
We are to “rejoice as we participate in the sufferings?” I needed a little help with this one. According to this I am not to just “push through” the sufferings of this world (both personal and global) but I am to rejoice about it? Peter would have known the sufferings of Paul and knew of Paul’s fiery mission to take the gospel to Rome and everywhere in between. So, maybe Paul had been an example to him (as he is us) on Joy.
The word “rejoice” here means to be “calmly happy”. My first thought when I studied the root word was how many times I felt a feeling like this at a funeral where a loved one had suffered and we were sad but at the same time happy that the suffering stopped. So, Peter isn’t speaking of Joy as we have studied it so far, he is speaking of the kind of Joy you have when you know the end of the story. By the way “overjoyed” here in it’s root, means “excessively happy” as we all will be on that day when we meet Him face to face.
Paul opens chapter 3 of his letter to the church with “ “Rejoice I the Lord Always”. Interestingly enough, the root of the word this time is the same word we see in the I Peter reference. “Be Calmly Happy”. While this chapter is mostly instructional and doesn’t speak of his circumstances, my guess is he knew what was coming eventually. So, he tells them to rejoice in the Lord—even though things don’t look good for him.
So, Peter and Paul were both saying the same thing. Both of them in somber times encourages us to be “calmly happy” because we do—in fact—know the end of the story.
But sometimes, in this world, in our lives; in the dark corners of our hearts and minds—the end of the story does little for us in the here and now. I am encouraged that at this juncture, the writers are not encouraging us to be “exceedingly glad” all the time but they admonish us to be “Calmly Happy”, because one day none of it will matter, and suffering will be wiped out, it will be gone.
Paul has taught us a lot so far. He has taught us to esteem others higher than ourselves. He has taught us not to complain, and in this chapter he teaches us to “Press Forward, Don’t Look Back” He does that in a series of familiar verses in the middle of chapter 3.
“Not that I have obtained it but forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forth to those things that are ahead, I press towards the mark of the prize of the high calling of God”
If you have followed any of my writings, you know that I am transparent, and so I am going to throw this out there:
These verses are probably some of my least favorite verses in the Bible.
I have always struggled with these verses. I don’t find myself looking back at a lifetime of trauma, but unfortunately, some parts of my every day life are affected by some of the evil that was perpetrated against me. It is difficult to “forget” those things. That word “forgetting” in the root word means exactly what we think “to lose out of our mind: or to “neglect to think about it”.
Paul’s words seem impossible and even he admits that he has not mastered it. But Paul had Joy; so it seems to me that he was on to something with this. After all, Paul had a lot to “forget”—he’d either authorized the killing of Christians or did it himself. He was there when Stephen was stoned to death.
The truth is our minds are not wired to forget trauma. And there are times when it is appropriate to remember (i.e.: helping others; processing in counseling) but I think what Paul meant here was not to dwell on the past. That will steal your Joy quickly and I have seen it MANY times with friends from the children’s home to fellow domestic violence victims. I think there is some validity to making peace with your past by forgiving others, and forgiving yourself. Paul could do anything about what he had done before he conversion. But he could choose to “neglect” to remember it everyday and to remember that His mercies are new every morning. I think when Paul (or we) grasp those mercies that are there for us; the Grace that is there for us; we find true Joy (all forms of it) and we find ourselves looking at the past less frequently, and it becomes important to us to not let those things define us through bitterness or any of it’s cousins.
In a world of uncertainty we don’t have to exhibit all the forms of Joy but we certainly can be “Calmly Happy” because despite the contrary, we know the end of the story. And because of that, Joy can stop being a commandment I can’t keep but a gift I want to pursue with all my might.
Still Searching, Calmly Happy.