Maybe you cringe as the sound of the word — “merry.” It has become trite — an overused word emptied of substance. It may also be a word that seems to mock you, especially this year. First, let’s put some substance back in the word-container, “merry.” Then, let’s see if it still mocks us.
Merry is a word for joy. Joy, as a word-container, holds a broad and deep cluster of concepts discoverable in the Scriptures! When one facet of joy is absent from our hearts and lives, this does not mean that all joy is gone. We need to further explore both our lives and the joy word-containers found in Scripture to unearth other evidence and the many languages of joy available for us. This is an important way that we can take our distressed, panicky thoughts captive and live by the Spirit rather than by our limited sight (II Corinthians 10:3-5; 5:7). Boy, do I need this today!
Over a period of years I’ve researched these biblical ideas of joy, and I’ve been surprised at some of my discoveries. Certainly, ’tis the season to gift you with some of my finds — not mine to give but God’s gifts for me to share with you!
Joy is the direct product of the good.
Joy is eternal.
Joy outlasts suffering.
Joy is stronger than pain.
Dropped into life situations,
Joy morphs into unexpected shapes.
Moprhed joy translates previously unknown languages.
The Word-Container, “Good”
Let’s start at the beginning. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As God births His creation, He assesses His work, pronouncing it “good.” Good, good, good, good, good, good, and in culmination, “very good” ( Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31). Seven approving observations. Makes you smile, doesn’t it? That’s joy. Yes, your smile, but God’s observations describe His joy — the first recorded in Scripture. God said, “Let there be…, ” so there was. Observing that His accomplishments were good, God expresses His deep satisfaction and pleasure through the concise adjective, “good.”
Our hearts resonate with God’s heart here — because we’re made in His image, conscious of our being and our doing. When you complete a project (and even in the middle of your work), don’t you look it over and assess it? When your product is good, don’t you feel an amazing satisfaction and pleasure? That’s joy. It makes your heart merry, and you want to share your delight with others. You rejoice.
God is good. God does good. The result of good is joy.
Evil is bad. Evil destroys; it has no power to create. Satan, the fallen angelic creature of God, is bad: always lying (John 8:44) and always aiming to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10a). Sin is bad, rebellious, destructive (Romans 6:23a). Sin is the enemy of the good, even when it dresses up in beautiful costumes. Just as joy is the pleasant child of the good, so suffering is the sad child of all evil.
The book of Genesis clearly shows that joy precedes sorrow and sin, since joy is God’s heart response to His good work, His exquisite creativity. And since evil, sin, and sorrow are temporary intruders, until God’s final kingdom comes, then we can see that evil is not endless (except in hell), and certainly not authoritative or in control. Its final day is coming. Thus, we are both warned (“Come to Jesus”; John 1:12) and encouraged (“In Him is life”; John 1: 4).
God and good are the final victors, and as His children, we stand in that victory that Jesus made. This is good; thus, no matter our temporary trials (I Peter 1:6-9), we have insight that cultivates an invincible joy. Joy is resilient.
Joy morphs into every language of resilience and invincibility. Why? Because God is good, God does good, and good is indestructibly eternal. God’s good kingdom comes and is coming.
In my studies I’ve discovered twelve biblical terms (clusters of meaning) for joy, showing its diversity. Oh, there is just too much good material to present in a post! Praise God for it! Oh, but there is more joy to unearth in that beautiful word, “good” before I mention two, rich terms of joy that I know can further nourish our souls.
Let’s mine that word, “good,” rhythmically employed in Genesis chapter one. The ancient Hebrew adjective “towb,” translated good, according to Robert B. Girdlestone’s Synonyms of the Old Testament means “pleasant, beautiful, excellent, lovely, delightful, convenient, joyful, fruitful, precious, sound, cheerful, kind, correct, righteous.” Bible scholar, Spiros Zodhiates concurs and adds a few more synonyms to the word container for “good,” such as “virtuous and happy.”
Selah! Hold up the globe of “good” in your mind, turning it like a diamond to observe all its angles and vibrant rays. Meditate upon “good.” It’s good for us to do.
You’d be blessed further by doing a study of the word, “good,” found in the Old and New Testament, to explore its many other contexts in which it is used as a noun and an adjective, ranging from “practical, economic, or material good to abstract good (desirability, pleasantness, and beauty),” as well as moral or philosophical good (Zodhiates’ lexicon).
Here’s my summary definition of the word-container, “good”:
“Good” is God’s warehouse of blessings.
Ahh!! You see? God’s first descriptive response to His creation was “good!” “Good” is the original expression of joy! Blessings! God is good. Source of happiness. Another synonym for joy? Merry! Expressing satisfied pleasure and delight!
God is Good
Check it out: I Chronicles. 16:34; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 25:8; 27:13; 31:19-20; 33:5; 34:8; 100:4-5; 107:8-9; 119:68; 143:10; 145:5-9; Nehemiah 9: 20; Nahum 1:7; Mark 10:18.
“Good” is an eternal attribute of God. God is good: ethical, competent, beautiful, and loving. God is eternal. Good is eternal. Good exists before suffering. Good cannot be destroyed. It outlasts suffering. It is stronger than pain. “Draw near to God” (James 4:8), and you are nudging close to goodness/joy.
God does Good
Explore Genesis 1; Psalm 107:8-10, Psalm 119:68, and all the above Psalms; Matthew 7: 11; and James 1:17.
Yet, with all the brokenness, sorrow, sin, and evil in the world, is God’s goodness just a far away concept and a future hope?
Another Kind of Good Revealing the Resilient Shapes of Joy
His goodness is a future hope, but it is also a present reality. Really? Yes, but in this current broken world, “good” and “joy” (including “merry”) have morphed into more complex versions of themselves, making them resilient to any viral strains used against them. What do I mean by this?
Let’s let C.S. Lewis help us understand something about the nature of the “good.”
From his book The Problem of Pain (1941), Lewis explains, “. . . God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula. The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces. The doctrine of the free Fall asserts the evil which thus makes the fuel or raw material for the second and more complex kind of good is not God’s contribution but man’s” (p. 80).
You may want to read that quotation several times.
Think carefully. Our good God and His good work that we experience during our lifetimes in this Fallen world involves a “more complex kind of good.” Life’s algorithms are weighted both for us (grace) and against us (evil), but never forget that grace’s weight is immeasurable. The algorithms of this age insert bad factors into God’s good equations. The sequence of steps to solve the “problem” are not simple and straight forward, but complex, asymmetrical, sometimes paradoxical. Yet, the “teleios” (Greek; the purposeful, mature end) reveals inexhaustible goodness, an extension of God’s own character, manifest through God creation, children, and kingdom.
His good joy expressed in His creation will outlive the groaning of this present age. So will we who belong to Him. Do you belong to God? He gave you the free will to choose between belonging to Him or claiming your independence from Him (a foolish choice, since He’s God and we’re not).
This “more complex kind of good,” which integrates the hardships of this life, may cause you to think of Romans 8:28, but when you think of verse 28, always include verse 29 and even 30 in your thinking, because the context explains the ultimate good cause for the complexity.*1
This “more complex kind of good” is transfiguring you and me into the exquisite goodness of Himself. This good thought about this good work mitigates my pain, giving it purpose, comforting me with a resilient joy.
Psalm 119 integrates all of these nourishing truths, declaring “You are good and You do good” (v. 68a); “Before I was afflicted I went astray” (v. 67a), and finally, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (v. 71). Good for me — a more complex kind of good that runs through affliction, but comes out the other end, transformed.
Romans chapter 8 and Psalm 119 provide source material for C.S. Lewis’ “a more complex kind of good” concept. I mentioned earlier that I discovered twelve biblical terms for joy, suggesting that I’d mention two. The following are two kinds of joy that emerge from the “more complex good” we experience.
Two Translations of Joy: Exultation and Courage
Exultation and Courage. Exultation makes sense. And this is the appropriate season to mention it. In Luke 1:46, Mary, the mother of Jesus, exclaims, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” This is the joy of exultation. Such joy of delight which stirred a merry heart within Mary would also require of Mary another language of joy — the resilient joy of courage. For a sword would enter her heart, as she followed the life of her son and Savior.
We too need both of these joys. We need the joy of exuberance is our response to God’s exquisite goodness. In times like these (2020 and 2021), we also need the joy of courage. Yes. Courage. By arming ourselves (I Peter 4:1) with biblical perspectives, we learn to follow Christ walking by faith, straying less and less, growing resilient as “pedestrian theologians.”
Is “merry” in “Merry Christmas” still mocking us? I hope not. I hope your word-containers for the words, good, joy, and merry are a bit fuller. I hope you drink from these the rest of your lives!
Meaningfully, we can say, “Merry Christmas,” even in this complex 2020 and the coming years. No matter the algorithm, Jesus is the weightiest factor, changing the outcome. In God’s good warehouse of blessings, “Emmanuel, God with us,” is our greatest blessing. Good, good, good.
How good it is to say, “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you!”
*1 . 28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters;30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30 NASB).