The life of the believer should not be characterized by fear but by joy. The word joy and its various forms appear 264 times in Scripture. Sad and sadness appear only thirteen times. One of C.S. Lewis’ books is entitled The Joyful Christian. The book comprises over 100 selections from his theological works that cumulatively suggest Christian belief and living should lead to joy. But that phrase “joyful Christian” suggests a paradox. Suffering is an essential element of Christian belief. Our faith is in a suffering Savior. We are encouraged to join our suffering to his. Where, then, is the joy?
We also find that paradox expressed in the first preface of Lenten Masses. It reads: “Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, … each year you give us this joyful season.” Joyful season? We think of Lent as a time for penance, of fasting and abstinence, of suppressing all signs of celebra-tion. The paradox is real. The solution is not either/or. The solution is both/and; both sorrow and joy, tears and laughter, dying and rising intertwined. Those things are part of the fabric of life.
Newman in one of his writings has the phrase “joy is the child of sorrow.” Our Christian belief and practice illustrates the truth of that phrase. If we truly join ourselves to Christ in the sorrow of his suffering and death we can come with him to the joy of resurrection and our redemption from sin.
St. Peter in his first letter (1: 6-7) speaks of how joy and suffering coexist. “This is a great joy to you, even though for a short time you must bear all sorts of trials; so that the worth of your faith, more valuable than gold, which is perishable even if it has been tested by fire, may be proved – to your praise and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Suffering does not necessarily preclude the presence of joy. But joy in that case can stem only from a deep faith and trust in God; believing that any suffering/evil that may come into our lives is not outside his providence. To find the strength to want to experience what we did not originally want is a tremendous challenge. If, however, we are able to do that, every event can be “providential.” We come to understand that joy consists not so much in the absence of suffering but in the awareness of God’s constant presence in our lives.
The joy that concerns us here is joy of the spirit, joy which is nearer to peace than to pleasure. It is therefore a joy that resides rather in the intellect and the will rather than in the lower faculties. It does not much delight the emotions; its satisfaction is for the soul itself.