When God spoke to Job “out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1, RSV throughout), he told him that when he, God, “laid the foundation of the earth”—that is, created everything that exists—“the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (vv. 4, 7). Which is to say, if we throw our minds back into the past as far as we can imagine, what we find is joy: the stars of God and the sons of God singing and shouting joyfully.
Then go the other direction—as far in the future as we can imagine, into heaven—and we find a similarly joyful pleasure. In Revelation, all creation is gathered around God’s throne, and songs of joy are lifted up by great multitudes in exuberant chorus. In the midst of the assembled joy, 24 elders, representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the church—venerable and dignified figures who represent symbolically the centuries of discipleship and faith in a grand finale—take off their crowns and throw them into the air, pitching them before God’s throne (Rev. 4:1–11). The picture is one of hilarity, almost of frivolity. Think of West Pointers throwing their white hats into the air in the jubilation of graduation or of football players filling the air with their helmets in the triumph of victory.
The story of our faith, our very existence, begins and ends with joy. And between the beginning and the conclusion there is joy: “a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Ps. 46:4). Jesus said it plainly: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). And Paul wrote to the Philippians how much he knew about ...1