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Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 | 3 comments

Christian Joy and Action

St. John Chrysostom in prayer 2“For not by laboring and sweating, not by fatigue and suffering, but merely as being beloved of God, we received what we have received.”- St. John Chrysostom

The foundation of our joy as Christians is being beloved of God. What exactly does this mean, being beloved of God? It means that any merit we think we have procured by our works, any virtue we have acquired by living a holy life, any charity that we have done for others, is meaningless if it is not done in the light of God’s love for others and ourselves.  To take joy in the Christian life is to worship—it is to act because of God’s love for us. This fundamental shift frees us to act outside the context of our personal glory. We are not charitable because it makes us feel good; we are generous because we are the handmaids of God: the Church, the body of Christ, the physical presence of God here on earth. We love because we first were loved, and in the presence of that overwhelming love we are moved, nay we are compelled, to reflect that unsurpassable love to all who surround us. Joy is the first fruits of our salvation; we experience joy because we are loved.

I am so often guilty of rejecting the joy of the Christian life. When I reject this joy my love for others and myself turns into a selfish ritual. I become amazed at how much I do for others, and how little they do for me. It becomes an internal contest; a game to see how much others love for me lives up to my love for them. Because I have rejected the joy, because I have forgotten what I have received from God, the magnitude of my selflove overcomes all other feeble attempts to love me. In this, any act that I do lacks the joy of salvation. It becomes empty, full of anger, and meaningless for it only feeds my narcissism. It neglects the love of God for the idol of my self.

The principle of our joy that stems from the love of God is conveyed to others by our love of them and the world. Justin in his most recent blog post commends us to reveal our salvation through our care of the earth. I could not agree more. But I would make one caveat that I hope he would agree with. We should proclaim that we are saved by our joyful action and not our anger. Because we are beloved by God we are free from the ontological burden of justifying our existence—we exist because we are loved by God. Thus, God’s love is the catalyst for our action, and as a being who is beloved of God I am free to reject the things that the world claims as necessary and good as idols of consumerism and narcissism. Therefore, in my rejection I am joyful, in my paying more at the pump I am happy, when I consume less because I cannot afford it I am grateful, for I am beloved.

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A.A. Grudem

I am a coffee drinker, book reader, and horrid speller.

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  • J.W. Pritchett

    I do agree that anger is not the ground of action. However, anger does seem among the appropriate responses to a rightly oriented love being squashed and desecrated by the corporate and government man.

  • Alexander Arden

    I still think joy is the better option. While, yes, there are times when anger sparks something in us that allows us to act, but rarely does that act not provoke another to anger–this is a cycle that is never ending, it is a cycle that begets isolation, self-righteousness, and despair. I am always wary of anger.
    Whereas joy allows us to suffer in the way Christ suffered: a self offering, a putting aside of righteous anger for something greater. To put it another way, anger reveals justice, joy reveals mercy. Justice, for many, is the highest good. I would say that it is the highest worldly good, yet it is easy to be just without love. Mercy for me is a higher good and it is one that we should strive for. Remember, the just don’t inherit the earth, the meek do.

    • J.W. Pritchett

      I used to agree with you. I was both wary of anger and justice. I still don’t like the typical use of justice as something which we deserve – as it is typically used in humanist circles. But, there is a central vein of justice throughout scripture and I think it serves as a critical pillar of orthodox Christianity. A Christianity without justice is one “of no earthly good.” Similarly I think anger has a place in redeemed humanity. So long as there remains evil and sin anger will remain in the redeemed heart. That I reckon is why we see Jesus get angry, Paul, and a plethora of the saints. St. Patrick supposedly had a wicked temper that motivated him to oppose slavery in a time when the Church didn’t care about slaves. Yes, anger can be warped. But so can Meekness. A warped meekness means fearfully never standing up to evil or to defend the helpless. We aren’t called to remove ourselves from the world and let it descend into destruction. We are called to love it. That means giving ourselves to it- which means being angry when things go wrong as they inevitably will. One last illustration: I have heard that a marriage without anger is a dying marriage. It means the couple no longer shows up, no longer cares, no longer loves. I think it is the same with life more broadly. A life without anger is one in which we don’t care, don’t love, and don’t show up. On this side of the the new creation in any case.