Joy amid Sorrow & the Atheists’ Dilemma

light_splash“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian!” (G.K. Chesterton) In a sermon, Joy amid Sorrow – in our Advent series at Christ Church – I began by quoting Philip Yancey’s introduction to Chesterton’s famous apologetic work, Orthodoxy. You can listen here. I suggested 4 “Disciplines” that cultivate JOY. Here, I want to provide the full quotations that deserve rumination.

“It struck me after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I seen a philosopher who goes around shaking his head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure.”

“Yet it looms as a huge question – the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians.”

Christians have an easier time on this one. “It’s natural that a good and loving God would want us to experience delight and joy. We start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheist have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world (they insist is) full of randomness and meaninglessness?”

Everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided .
The mass of men have been forced to be (happy) about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless… it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, (humans are more humanlike), when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude,…praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.
Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed – joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small.
“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan – is the gigantic secret of the Christian!…
Jesus chose to conceal something about himself:
(Chesterton says it’s not his tears – or his anger)
“He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His MIRTH.”
(NOTE: by ‘Mirth’, Chesterton means His overflowing gladness and joy.)

Let me throw in some C. S. Lewis from Reflections on the Psalms:
But how can we exult in a world where there is so much to lament? Where can we find joy in a world where hate is strong, as Longfellow has written, and mocks any expression of peace on earth and good will to men? In the “jocund” Psalms—where music, festivity, and agriculture are not things separate from religion, nor is religion something separate from them—Lewis claims, “I find an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real.”

(BONUS: a recently discovered letter by C.S. Lewis gives another window into understanding of Joy. Read about it here.)

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