“So that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17:13)
I spent a few hours mulling it over, particularly the word “joy”. I got four definitions from various dictionaries.
1. Joy – a feeling of great pleasure
2. Joy – a feeling of great happiness
3. Joy – an emotion in response to a pleasant observation or remembrance thereof.
4. Joy – the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying: Keen pleasure: Elation.
I even checked up the Greek to see if there was any alternate translation for the word Charan. There isn’t really. Charan is a feminine noun which is consistently translated “Joy.” Strong’s concordance reliably tells me that there are 59 occurrences in the New Testament.
So how do we deal with the concept of “joy”. The prayer of Jesus was that we would have joy complete in us. Joy is a feeling and an emotion. We clearly do not have it all the time. This is even recognized in other parts of the scriptures. Romans 12:15 instructs the readers to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.
This week has not been joy filled. Our school community has been devastated by some awful events. It has been a week of mourning with those who mourn. Perhaps, comforting to know that on occasion even Jesus wept.
Jesus prayed this prayer just before his final journey to the cross. Later Jesus reportedly said, “let this cup pass from me.” (Luke 22; Matthew 26)
That doesn’t sound very joyful at all. If we wanted to, we could talk maybe about obedience or even about submission. But we would be hard pressed to say it was a joyful experience.
Before I go to sleep I often read a novel, – a little lightness at the end of very busy days – it takes a while as I usually read one page and zonk out! Last night I read the following passage. It made me think as I was still pondering joy. The character in the book was enjoying the scenery at the seaside after her swim. The author describes her mind as “empty of everything save the physical perfection of now.”
The character went on to say, that she had decided “one of the good things about being 58 was the fact that one took time to appreciate the really marvellous moments that still came one’s way. They weren’t happiness exactly. Years ago happiness had ceased to pounce unawares with the reasonless ecstasy of youth. This was something better” (Rosamunde Pilcher, Voices in Summer)
I pondered, perhaps that is complete joy. An ability to appreciate and take delight in what is around us. Not big exciting events but everyday small scenes and happenings. Maybe it can be found in bird song, a pretty scene, a fragrant flower, a kind word, a generous act or a smile.
So I don’t think “joy completed in us” is that we are always to have joyful, elated or happy feelings as the various definitions explain it to us. To experience the emotion of joy continually, would make us far from human. Maybe it would be impossible to recognize and name joy without the conflicting emotions of sadness and fear. Perhaps when Jesus prayed this it was as a blessing. It was a prayer wanting the very best for his friends.
Maybe, for us, joy is complete in us when we have the ability to recognize the moments of joy in small everyday things in the midst of the busyness, sadness and fears that make us human