Find Joy In God
God wants all of us, even grieving parents, to find joy in God. Jesus himself told His disciples that the reason for his teaching was for our eternal joy. In John 15:11, Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Rather than finding joy in circumstances, we ought to find our joy in God.
Following my oldest son’s death, I re-examined every aspect of my life to determine where I find joy and happiness in my life. Is my joy from my job? But what happens when I lose it? Is my joy in my hobbies, my athletic pursuits or my entertainment? What happens when I lose my sight or my ability to run or walk? Is my joy in my spouse and children? What happens when my child or spouse dies? How will I have any ability to carry on in life if all of my joy was centered solely in my child or spouse? To the extent that you use your life circumstances as the sole means for joy in your life, I believe that you are living in a dream world, for sooner or later the façade will come crashing down, and you will have nothing left. What of joy then? Where will your joy come from then?
If we focus on the objective truth of God’s great love for us, demonstrated in Christ, then we can have a joy sufficient to overcome the melancholy that accompanies our mourning. In Colossians, Paul says to the church, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:11-14.
Outside of living in the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the only way to break out of our melancholy would be to try various means to either (i) forget your circumstances as they relate to your deceased child and his or her history or (ii) convince yourself that you never really loved your now-deceased child all that much, or that life is not that big of a deal. But these are short-term “fixes,” of avoiding the grief, and will only work so long as the circumstances are right. These methods of dealing with melancholy are “dark” in the sense that they are not grounded in objective truth. To the extent that these methods work for you it is only because we turn off the lights and, in living in the dark, are able to, for only a short time, avoid the plain objective realities surrounding our child’s death.
In the Bible, we see several men who centered their hopes for joy in God, not their own circumstances. One of these was King David who, as King of Israel, led the Israel through its greatest, most successful years. But rather than focus on his own significant earthly successes as the source of his happiness, David tells us that it was God that ultimately brought him joy. In Psalm 27, David says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”
Psalm 27:4. David said, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’…The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” Psalm 16:2,5.
The Psalmist Asaph understood that, ultimately, only God could give him true, full, everlasting joy. When everything else in life fades away, when everyone else dies, and even when we die, God will still be there for us. In Psalm 73:25, 26, Asaph writes, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
The Apostle Paul, before he became a Christian, had reason to take pride in his circumstances. He was a zealous Jew, even persecuting the early church. And yet, following his conversion, he considered all his background“…as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8-11.
There is nothing we need more following the death of our child than joy. But in order to have sustained, lasting joy, the object of our joy must be eternal. If the suffering you have experienced has soured the taste of anything that used to give you joy, you ought to examples of Paul, Asaph and David in finding ultimate joy in God. No earthly joy tastes as sweet as a joy centered in God. Psalm 34:8.
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