Posted by: 15shekels | January 18, 2011

Let them sing for joy on their beds

2 Samuel 6:14-15

“The outer ring of Christianity is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests; but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom. But in the modern philosophy the case is opposite; it is the outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within.” (G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy,” page 152)

“The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones…[But] melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul…Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” (Chesterton, p. 154-155)

“As servants of God we [are]…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 4, 10)

At age 20, I lived for excitement and entertainment. I made very sure that my days were punctuated by sharp and frequent fun.

I say “punctuated by” because my embarrassing secret was the baseline state to which I returned between these highs—a state of quiet despair. This melancholy was all the more frustrating because I was denied nothing. There was nothing left to strive for except more of the same.

As I charged through life taking and tasting, I had to avert my eyes in order to forget that I was barreling toward meaninglessness and death. What is worse, I couldn’t even enjoy the ride, as even pleasures lose their meaning outside of the context of boundaries. Tell a child that he can have any toy he desires, and you will see a near-scientific demonstration of the diminishing returns of pleasure.

This, then, is the quiet despair of Chesterton’s pagan—the one whom our culture calls enlightened, progressive, freed from the archaic constraints of dusty church fathers. They sample and they play, and as life ticks by and beauty and youth trickle down the drain, so does their hope. Their lives look “artistic and emancipated” from the outside, and yet those who enter the circle quickly realize that their idols are one-trick ponies. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake. And when pleasure runs out, the inside of the circle is quiet and sad.

At one time I rejected Christianity because I saw it as a strict disciplinarian who would fence me in with rules and steal my fun and joy. When I did come to accept the faith, it was because I found it to be truth. It was certainly not a lifestyle decision. I feared I was trading in my freedom and fun for eternal life and purpose.

How could I have missed the obvious—that the backdrop of eternal life and purpose sets fire to the joys of life. Once I stepped inside the “outer ring” of Christianity, the “rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests,” I found an unceasing celebration. Yes, they were dancing and drinking wine (take that, Reverend Shaw), but they weren’t doing so to suck every ounce of potential pleasure out of those activities. Instead the Christians were dancing and drinking in celebration of the king, of the triumph of good over evil, of the freedom of having been rescued, of the joy of being deeply loved, of the promise of eternal life with a beautiful and perfect God.

Yes, the life of the Christian involves sacrifice, self-denial, suffering and sadness. But as we face the pain, we see the backdrop of eternal joy behind it. We have the dignity of knowing that right and wrong exist, and that pain and suffering are wrong. We have a Savior who came to earth and wept at death but also drank wine and celebrated. We have the promise that God is restoring the world.

So don’t believe the publicity. If you chase joy, you will discover as Solomon did that you are chasing after the wind. But chase God, and joy will pour down on you like rain.

“Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.
Let the saints rejoice in this honor
and sing for joy on their beds.” -Psalm 149:2-5

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Responses

  1. Beautifully said. What a blessing that you discovered truth and joy well before you turned 25! I “missed the obvious” until I was much, much older. Isn’t it breathtaking to look back and see exactly how God brought you to where you are now? Think how much more he has planned for you!


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