16 March 2011

Solemn Joy

Even in laughter the heart may ache. --Proverbs 14:13

I am realizing that some of the times when others are probably most tempted to ask 'Why so somber, Dane?' are my most joy-filled moments, and other times when I am laughing most are my most miserable.

There is a frothiness that laughs and jokes and jeers which is utterly devoid of real joy. And there is a quiet sobriety that fights back tears, the joy is so intense. One is external joy hiding internal misery. The other is external seriousness hiding internal delight. Do a search for 'laughter' in the Bible. It is more often discouraged than encouraged.

I find that medicating the emptiness within with SNL and Youtube is like scratching poison ivy--temporary relief, but afterward I am worse off. Don't you find that?

Have you ever met someone who wasn't comfortable with more than thirty seconds without some snide comment or trivializing joke? Someone for whom seriousness is just too awkward? I have just one question: Will you go to such a one when the heart is breaking?

Jay Leno knows nothing of joy.

After the local Northampton revival of 1734-35 came the Great Awakening in 1740-42. Edwards makes a fascinating observation about a difference between the two revivals.
There has been a remarkable difference in this respect, that whereas many before, in their comforts and rejoicings, did too much forget their distance from God, and were ready in their conversation together of the things of God and of their own experiences, to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter; now they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy. . . .

'Tis not because the joy is not as great, and in many of them much greater. . . . Their rejoicing operates in another manner: it only abases and solemnizes them; breaks their hearts, and brings them into the dust: now when they speak of their joys, it is not with laughter, but a flood of tears. Thus those that laughed before, weep now; and yet, by their united testimony, their joy is vastly purer and sweeter than that which before did more raise their animal spirits. (Distinguishing Marks, in Works, Yale ed., 4:270)
The local revival produced valid joy, but the Great Awakening brought joy that was both more intense and more solemn.

I'm reminded of Spurgeon's comment in Lectures to My Students that
Cheerfulness is one thing, and frivolity is another; he is a wise man who by a serious happiness of conversation steers between the dark rocks of moroseness, and the quicksands of levity. (p. 310)
And you'll remember Lewis' poignant side comment in The Last Battle--
There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes. (ch. 15)
To be sure, if anyone should know what uproarious laughter is, it is Christians. We are involved in the greatest comedy (in the classic sense of that word) the world has ever known. We know it will all turn out well in the end. The world wins now to lose then; we lose now to win then. We know God is going to one day hit rewind on these decaying bodies and restore the world to normal, Eden 2.0, with Jesus at the center, and huge smallmouth bass in every river. We have more reason for joy than anyone.

But don't substitute frothy frivolity for the real thing. Beware the sit-coms, which increase laughter and decrease joy. Turn off the TV tonight and chew on Ps 34 or 63 or 85, or the Beatitudes or the Upper Room Discourse, or Colossians, or Augustine's Confessions or Luther's letters or Whitefield's sermons, or Donne or Tolkien or Packer or Piper or Powlison. Or whoever breathes life into you.

You will laugh less. And be much happier.


Kara Chupp said...

Very much appreciate this post...
"Joy is protected from being flippant by steady sorrow. Sorrow is protected from being fatal by steady joy."
--John Piper

sh said...
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Anonymous said...

I too appreciated this post. I so often am mistaken for down-trodden or sorrowful when in fact I am basking and humbled by Christ's undeserved mercies!

In Christ

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome, honest and helpful post. Thank you!

Eric said...

What a great post, Dane. I was just somberly enjoying Ecclesiastes 7 last week - which talks about empty, frothy laughter, and a profound sadness which eventuates in joy (v. 2).

I wonder how it might change our worship if this truth sunk within us more deeply? I find it difficult to sing along sometimes, because the songs jump ahead to an only superficial happiness.

Amy said...

This is such a great post.

I sitting at work right now. I just read this verse:

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Ps 16:11

I am listening to praise music; my heart is swelling with joy that is pouring tears... and I bite my lip to hold it in but I can't.

I was just writing about how I am having a day of... solemn joy. The words just popped into my mind, and so I searched "what is solemn joy," and came upon your wonderfully insightful post.

Is there a way to subscribe to this blog via email? I will be back to read more of your writing!

I am a blogger myself. Please feel free to check out my fiance's blog, GodandStuff.com or my blog, HeyItsAmy.com.

Yours in Christ,

Amy said...

By the way, I am posting a link to this blog post on my Twitter feed. I want to share!

Thank you again for writing this.