by Danielah Blackburn
Time and time again throughout the Bible, G-d tells us to have joy in moments of pain, strife, and difficulty. For example:
“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 (it can only be our strength through humility and submission)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
“For His anger lasts for but a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 (sleep on it)
I think it’s a confusing concept for many as to why G-d would tell us to rejoice in desperate circumstances. Often times, when seeking deeper meaning of a passage or verse, I dive into the meaning of the word. The definition of the word joy in the encyclopedia is as follows:
To experience great pleasure or delight: REJOICE, 2) the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.
When we examine the definition of the word joy in the English language, we see how the meaning is almost synonymous with success, or pleasure. In a nutshell, joy boils down to anything that makes you feel good.
So what does G-d mean when He tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds? Can He mean that we should consider it a success or that it is pleasurable to experience pain? Being that G-d is clearly not a masochist, it doesn’t seem the best the answer.
Furthermore, when we examine the rest of the passage we see the joy through the trials we experience produces perseverance; and in turn, maturity in the Lord. This makes it sound even less to be the correct meaning of how we should be joyful.
If that were the case, He would essentially be telling us to “grin and bare it”, and that’s not the merciful Lord that we know. It’s also the opposite of “casting our cares on Him” if we are to rejoice in our pain.
Another opinion on the meaning of having joy in our circumstance is that when we experience roadblocks and difficulties then the enemy is trying to fight us in whatever G-d is trying to help us accomplish. Sometimes this must be the case. However, it sounds like we are giving Satan a little too much credit for his evil deeds when we rejoice in this manner. In a case such as described, if we are not careful we end up focused on the success of what we are looking to accomplish and not on G-d and the battle He is fighting for us.
Similarly, we may experience moments of relief in hope when we are spending time in worship and in prayer. But, this may also be fleeting if we do not make a conscious effort to daily turn our hearts toward G-d trusting Him to take control of the matter, whether it is pain, grief, or strife. That would be like checking your coat at the door and picking it back up when you leave. You can feel the burden drop and the cloud lift when you are in worship, but then you pick them back up when you leave.
Having true and pure joy is not a natural thing for us as humans because it requires a kind of trust and vulnerability that only comes through relationship. Only when we can fully turn our hearts to G-d placing, not only the matter at hand, but also our lives at His feet can we begin to experience truly overflowing joy.
As we enter the month of Elul, we begin a period of reflection in leading up to Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and eventually, Sukkot; a holiday during which we are commanded to rejoice. If the biblical definition of joy is applied to this process, the progression of the High Holidays holds true in that we must first direct our hearts toward Him and in that we find pure joy.