Last week I gave the first part of a definition of joy, asserting the controversial opinion that we have to admit that it’s a feeling, an emotion.
This week I want to say something that might also be considered controversial: Joy arises as a response to something outside of us. A sensory response. I’m talking about the five senses here: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. As in . . .
You hear wonderful news.
You taste a delectable treat.
You see, smell, feel a perfect spring day in the meadow.
One problem is that I think that some Christians, though they have an inner sense that joy really does arise as a response to something, they don’t want to admit it, because they think they’re supposed to have joy in spite of circumstances rather than because of circumstances. Which means, if you take it to its logical conclusion, they think that joy arises out of nowhere.
I hope you’re staying with me on this one, because it’s really important.
Think about some times in your life that you’ve experienced what you think of as joy, an energizing exuberance that filled you up for more than a few ephemeral moments. Wasn’t it because of something that happened? That actually occurred on the timeline of your life?
Wasn’t it because of something you heard or saw (including words) or something you felt or tasted or smelled?
When you feel a deep sense of joy or happiness (the Bible doesn’t distinguish the two), it affects you physically. That burst of life, vigor, energy that you feel—it naturally comes out of you in a physical way: You express your great pleasure by speaking, singing, moving—by catching your breath or feeling your heart beat harder. In the case of the meadow, you might stretch out your arms and run while you sing, or at least turn in circles the way Maria did on the mountaintop.
True joy—and maybe you’ve never felt it, so it may be hard to imagine—will overwhelm your spirit, your true self, your inner, non-physical self, engulfing it like an ocean wave, to the point that you have to stop other activities and react to this experience.
Now, I said that it arises as a response to something taken in by the senses. This is assuming that you’re actually alive, because a dead person doesn’t have any senses to respond with. That’s important, but you might not have thought about it before because it seemed . . . well, obvious.
But it’s important to think about because life happens on two levels. Always. There’s the physical level and the spiritual level. And lo and behold, we have a whole range of senses on the spiritual level that can respond to things that happen in the spiritual realm just as our physical senses respond to things on the physical level. In fact, even more. Way more.
If you’re dead on the spiritual level—or even comatose—it doesn’t happen.
But enough of that for now. I’m past my word limit.
Conclusion #2: Joy is a natural outspringing of exhilarating, energizing emotion arising as a response to a sensory experience that overwhelms the spirit with its beauty, grandeur, glory, and goodness.