2. Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory
We are told that the Lord created us so that we might be happy in heaven to eternity. That is the condition to which you can hopefully look forward. God is our heavenly Father, and every father wants his children to be truly happy. Looking back over my own life as a father, I can remember how wonderful it was for my wife and me, when our children were playing happily together; we wanted nothing more. God must experience this feeling to an infinite degree when He gazes down and sees his children happy. But there are, of course, many different kinds of happiness. Some are temporary only, and have a sting in their tail. Others are merely skin deep, with misery underneath. The Lord wants for us the kind of happiness that is genuine, and goes down to the roots of life, and is a never-failing fountain.
I read an account of a visit made to the United States by a Russian poet, who remarked that the Americans "smiled too readily and too much" - the implication being that our happiness is too near the surface. It is like the starter of a car spinning round and round, but the engine doesn't engage! "Fun" is the word we use for it. The advertisements tell us of "the fun way to clean the house," "The fun way to save $1,000." In Cleveland, the ordinary bus timetable was called: "Fun Tours of Cleveland." "Going to College is fun." And I even saw an article in a church magazine entitled: "Religion can be fun." Well, if "fun" means what I think it means - an agreeable and amusing way of wasting time, then I don't think religion could ever be fun.
How about pleasure? Pleasure also is promised to us in the advertisements, but people are a bit ashamed of the word because pleasure is believed to mean the satisfaction of one's desires, which may be good or may be evil. There are those who find pleasure in watching some person or animal being tortured. Or in taking drugs (so-called "happy dust"). Or in looking at pornographic magazines or "adult movies." No loving father would want such pleasures for his children. True happiness cannot be enjoyed at the expense of other people, nor by one part of our nature at the expense of another part. Such pleasure results in shame, remorse, headaches next morning. We should never participate in any so-called enjoyment which we could not share with Jesus if He were here, or which would not receive His approval. True happiness is creative, not destructive. It works in harmony with God's laws, not against them. It is the ultimate of health and wholeness.
Taking happiness in this sense, Jesus and His disciples seem to have been a happy lot. There was ready laughter on their lips, gaiety in their hearts. So much so that the priests and pharisees were shocked. They called Jesus a wine-bibber. They complained that His company was like a wedding party, whereas presumably they thought it should be like a funeral! I can imagine them saying indignantly to Peter and John: "Is Jesus unaware of the political situation? Is he insensitive to the tragedies and sorrows of life? - the undeserved arrest of Jews by the Romans? - innocent people put to death by crucifixion? Doesn't he sympathize with some poor fellow hanging on a cross?" They probably said, as pessimists have been saying down through the ages, "Times were never so bad as they are today." Yet, here were Jesus and His disciples with a song on their lips and joy in their hearts. It didn't seem right!
Well, we know that Jesus did not evade the unpleasant aspects of life. In fact He deliberately identified Himself with the dispossessed, the sick and the poor and the riffraff. He knew all the lineaments of sorrow and suffering. He had no home, no possessions, no honor in the accepted sense, no status with the establishment. One of His most trusted friends betrayed Him into the hands of His enemies, who handed Him over to the Romans, and He himself became "one of those poor fellows hanging on a cross." Yet on the evening before His arrest, when He was tired and dreading the torture He knew He would shortly have to endure, He gave His disciples His final instructions as they sat quaking there, expecting the worst, and then added: "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). What did they make of that?
Jesus was joyful, deep down inside Him, because He knew that the terrible agony He was about to be subjected to, would result in the salvation of the human race. It was true that He would have to experience the death-pangs of all those parts of His nature in which He had been consciously living up until that time. This was because they were finite, and so were separating Him from His heavenly Father. But He knew that the destruction of these finite elements would leave Him completely merged with the Divine. And this union of Jesus with the Father was (Swedenborg tells us) the most wonderful and glorious thing that has ever happened since the beginning of history. All the angels of heaven felt it and shared in it, so that there was a tremendous jubilation from one end of heaven to the other. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" (Revelations 5:12). Even today, whenever the angels think of it, they cannot hold themselves back from glorious singing. Our Lord gives His joy to them, so that their joy is full. So, in that dimly-lit upper room in Jerusalem, where the disciples were heavy with gloomy forebodings, Jesus tried to get them to see that a deep and wonderful joy was maturing inside Him, which He could share with them if they would only turn their eyes away from the appalling conditions of their environment, and look to Him as their Lord and their God.
We are living in evil times today (though not nearly so bad as those in which Jesus and His disciples were living). There is war overseas; there are murders and rapes in our cities. The cost of living goes up and up, and we are constantly under threat of destruction from...nuclear bombs. And most of us have personal problems, too, which militate against our enjoyment of life: health problems, financial difficulties, domestic upsets. Why does God allow these things to afflict us if He wants us to be happy? Maybe it is to force us to look inwards, and not be content with things as they are on the surface. If we had our own way in everything, if life went as we should like it to go, and we had an easy time - never a worry or a trouble . . . don't you think we should rest content in a very superficial kind of happiness, which would leave us immature and spiritually feeble? Would we ever be capable of enjoying the happiness of heaven to eternity, as the Lord wants us to do?
Whether we like to admit it or not, our lower self is in league with hell, and provides an effective barrier between us and heaven. It must be broken down, ground to powder and dispersed. Each one of us must undergo a process of emptying-out, dying unto self; hence the need for temptation combats, trials, tribulations, struggle and loss. The pharisees and followers of John the Baptist were right in insisting that a certain amount of self-discipline and sorrow was an essential ingredient of life. But they were wrong in making it the chief thing! Sorrow and suffering are not what the Lord wants for His children - surely not! - nor is temptation to be entered into for its own sake. It was to counter this idea that Jesus included in the prayer He taught His disciples: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The suffering is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, and the end is Heavenly Joy! Suppose you are digging up a garden to plant roses. The digging, the breaking up of the soil, is not a good thing in itself, but you do it for the sake of the end - which is the blossoming rose bushes. If struggle and temptation do not lead to joy and peace, they are useless, even bad. "Weeping" is only justified and desirable if "joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).
The amount of sorrow we have to endure in order to achieve joy, depends to a large extent on how easily we can let the old self go, with its swollen pride and its hurt feelings and its jealousies and stupid indignations. It depends on how desperately we cling to the external things which seem to give us happiness but don't really. Once we have ceased to look for happiness in the external and ephemeral things of this world (wealth, honors, success, being well thought of, and so on) and begin to develop a taste for the joys of heaven, our temptations will cease to afflict us, and our sufferings will probably come to an end too - or, at any rate, they will no longer trouble us.
In my previous essay I mentioned some of the sources of heavenly happiness. In general it can be said that the Lord's inflowing life is joy itself, insofar as it is received and reciprocated by His children. It must be reciprocated, of course. Among the devils of hell, the inflow of the Lord's life is a source of misery and torture, which He mercifully spares them as far as possible. Even among human beings on earth, unrequited love is sad, even tragic. So the angels of heaven, and men on earth also, are joyful and happy, just to the degree in which they receive and respond to the Lord's life.
To quote Swedenborg, angelic joy consists of "harmonies of innumerable affections, flowing in from the order of heaven. It begins from within, and diffuses itself very softly through all the inmost fibers, which become nothing but joy and delight, so that the senses almost swoon." He goes on to tell how certain good spirits shortly after death wanted to experience heavenly joy before they were fully prepared for it; their wish was granted, but they were filled with agony, the joy was so intense! Swedenborg then gives us one of those touches of scientific realism, which are almost humorous in their incongruity: "A certain angel enumerated the most universal only of the genera of the joys of the lowest heaven, to about 478; from which we may infer how innumerable must be the species, and that in the lowest heaven only!"
That was in the spiritual world, but there is nothing to prevent us from experiencing many of these genera and species of joy while living on earth. All the great saints seem to have been joyful people, "on top of the world." The Psalms are just bubbling with joy. Simon Peter speaks, in his first Epistle to the newly-formed Christian community, of "Joy unspeakable and full of glory." Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi, with their feet clamped in the painful stocks and heavy chains on their wrists, sang spiritual songs and praises to God so loudly that all the other prisoners heard, and marvelled. Saint Francis and his little friars sang and laughed as they tramped the dusty lanes of Italy in their rags and hunger and absolute poverty; and even today I have never known a deep and mature Christian who does not radiate joy.
If you are not happy in your church, there must be something wrong with you, or with your church, or both. In any case, something should be done about it. And if you are not happy in your life, then the probability is that you are not happy in your religion, for all religion has relation to life. Sweep away the cobwebs! Fling open the shutters! Draw aside the drapes! Let the Lord's love and wisdom suffuse your hearts. Tune into heaven, connect up with heaven, so that the joy of heaven may be in and around you; in your home, in your place of employment, wherever your influence is felt. And when you are removed from this temporary fleeting world at death, leaving behind you every allurement of property and comfort and honor to which the natural man attributes his pleasure, the Lord will say: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things; enter into the JOY of thy Lord."