How many of us would say we are joyful people? Chances are, probably not that many.
And we all have reasons, probably really good ones. Maybe we’ve been lied about by someone we thought was trustworthy. Perhaps we were abused verbally, physically, or spiritually. Maybe we deal with depression, or struggle to make sense of the loss of someone close to us. Maybe it’s just that God seems to have abandoned us… or at least that he’s got better things to do with his time than to deal with you and me.
We’ve all got a list, don’t we? One that can’t be easily written off or placated by pithy statements and well meaning advice. Our lists make it difficult to see “joy” as anything more than a platitude. A cliche. But it’s not something we actually experience in our day-to-day lives.
I get frustrated when I see Christians try to downplay feelings of loss, despair, or even emptiness when they’re brought to light. I also get frustrated when I see those who experience such feelings dismiss help or encouragement as something disingenuous. They generally represent two views in a false dichotomy that says the two can’t coexist. Why? Because the psalms exist. Because David, the man after God’s own heart, the greatest human king of Israel, was intimately familiar with both.
Think about psalm 22 for a moment:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2 CSB)
David began this psalm with a powerful expression of grief, doubt and pain. With the feeling of abandonment by God. And he had every reason to feel this way, didn’t he? I mean, he was on the run for years because King Saul wanted him dead. Later he lived on the run again as his son attempted to stage a coup and usurp the throne. He experienced war, betrayal, enemies surrounding him on all sides… He had every reason to express himself this way.
And the same is true of us. There is nothing wrong with expressing our feelings, even when they say we think we’ve been abandoned by God. (Just read v. 3-18 if you have any doubt about this.)
But David didn’t end there. Even in his darkest moments, he challenged his feelings. He asked God to save him in this psalm. In another, he asked “why are you cast down, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5 ESV) before replying to himself, “Hope in God.”
This is just a snippet, a brief glimpse into what God wants us to know about the relationship between these two realities. But even though it is brief, I hope it is an encouragement to place false dichotomies that make us try to choose between between expressing grief and pursuing joy where they belong: straight in the pit of hell.
It is not pithy to say God is the answer, to encourage the weary and angry and frustrated and grief stricken to hope in him. God is the one who provides an answer to all pain and suffering. He is the source of joy because he is the destroyer of death. He is the one who identifies with us in our weakness. Who understands our sorrow as well (or better) than we do. And although we may not always feel it, God wants us to know it so we can respond to our feelings with the same plea as David: “But you, Lord, don’t be far away.” (Psalm 22:19 CSB)
Hope in God, because he is our only hope.