Should a Christian ever be unhappy? In some periods of church history it would have seemed absurd to ask such a question. These were the periods in which Christians cultivated an air of grave solemnity and earned for themselves a reputation for being glum and lugubrious.
At other times—including, I think, our own day—the opposite tendency has been apparent. Evangelism has been debased into the simple invitation to “come to Jesus and be happy.” The signature tune of the Christian Church has been “I Am Happy.” Christians are to appear hearty, ebullient, and boisterous. In a Christian magazine I receive, every Christian’s picture (and there are many) shows him with a grin from ear to ear. Some Christians would defend this attitude by quoting such Scripture as “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
But the true biblical image of the Christian is neither of these. Nor is it both together, though joy and sorrow are both part of the Christian life. “There is a time to laugh, and there is a time to weep,” said the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. Moreover, we are followers of One who went about saying, “Be of good cheer.… Go in peace,” yet was called “the Man of sorrows.” The Apostle Paul expressed the same paradox in Second Corinthians 6:10—“as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Human life itself can be full of joy; God has “given us all things richly to enjoy.” That the Christian life, in particular, is intended to be joyful is obvious from Scripture and hardly needs to be emphasized.
The Gospel is “glad tidings of great joy,” and in God’s presence is “fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). Jesus said ...1
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