Last night during our weekly Life Group, I heard something that truly bothered me when our host, who was expressing guilt and remorse said, "Even my good works have selfish motive. I feel good when I do them, otherwise, I'm not sure I could do the same good deeds." He was being honest, but I think his guilt about deriving joy from his good works is not something he gets from The Great I Am.
Most of the *sexy ancient civilizations that are referred to quite often today are known for having gods to govern each event that one might encounter in life. Of all the recorded, worshiped deities only one, the African goddess Hathor, is specifically listed a 'goddess of joy.'
In fairness, I suppose the god(dess) of love could cover that category, but I find it interesting how all of the religions specifically innumerate the gods of death, destruction, war, fertility, harvest, love and nature; but not joy. According to the legends, these gods were not on the side of humans. They blessed and cursed in the same breath, tormented people for fun, and fought amongst each other for power. In other words, the ancient peoples of the world rarely felt they obtained joy from the governing deities.
I think it is from these ignorant and corrupt versions of supreme powers that we have some carry-over baggage to our God; The One True God; and more specifically, The God of Joy.
Maybe we deduce our hell fire and brimstone version of Jehovah from the Old Testament and Revelations. We must keep in mind that there is so much to this life God has provided before we reach a time of judgment and justice.
I thoroughly believe that we, as Christians, put the sadistic and malevolent characteristics of the other gods onto the one true God. These other gods that say, "Fear me, worship me, or suffer." This is the opposite of the ever-pursuing, watchful, and merciful God we know.
God created the system under which we currently operate in the human condition. He is the one that gave us the great capacity to feel joy when we submit to an action or attitude of servitude. He gave us great joy in our families, in our children, and in our talents. Let's not beat around the bush, he gave us sex too. Sex is likely the most misused of the gifts, and like all things, when misused it can become an incredibly destructive force. It doesn't mean it's not a blessing.
Jehovah is the God of Joy. He offers us eternal joy. The traditions of the Catholic Church and Puritanism are the ones demanding a conformity to emotionless and joyless works of "faith" that are checked off and monitored like a teacher grading homework assignments. Indeed, the joylessness offered by those traditions are contrary to The God of Joy and what He offers in His Service, which is a theme throughout the gospels and epistles.
In study and discussion, this passage from C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory, has really changed the way Liz and I live and make decisions. We believe this passage does an incredible job of summarizing the joy God offers us:
"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like the ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the ofter of a holiday at the seas. We are far too easily pleased."
Pursuing Christ is pursuing joy, which is a philosophy John Piper calls, "Christian Hedonism" in his book God's Passion for His Glory. In truth, "Christian Hedonism" is God's philosophy, for it is The Lord's wish that we feel complete, enraptured, and accomplished while serving His will.
*= Rome, Greece, and Egypt. As opposed to those less popular ancient civilizations like the Sumerian, Aztec, and even Byzantine Empires (which is kinda Greco-Roman).