Joy is one of the constant themes in the Sacred Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. We normally think about joy as a characteristic of a Christian, but the Bible also asserts that God experiences joy. As a side note, when we speak about God having emotions, we can only speak analogously. But, it is important to understand that the Scriptures speaks of God “rejoicing” on a regular basis. The delight he experiences is transcendental, perfect, infinite, and divine.
What Causes the Lord Joy?
Let’s dive into divine revelation to identify three causes of God’s joy and as we do, let’s keep our spiritual ears open to how each of these causes of God’s joy can become deep wellsprings of joy for each one of us.
1. God Rejoices in His Son
God the Father rarely speaks audibly in the New Testament. Virtually every time he is directly heard though he is expressing his pleasure or delight in his Son, Jesus. Most famously at his baptism and later at the Transfiguration, we hear words similar to this, “This is my beloved [deeply loved] Son, in whom I am very pleased” (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Matthew 17:5). This is Old Testament language from Isaiah. St. Matthew confirms this by quoting the prophet later in Matthew 12:18, ““Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him.” In Isaiah 43:1 the Hebrew word translated as “well pleased” is a variant of the verb ratsah which means to be delighted or joy-filled. The Father rejoices in the Son. There has never been a time that Jesus was not God’s Son, so this delight precedes his earthly Incarnation and has been going on from eternity.
The Believer Rejoices in God the Son
It’s no great surprise to discover Jesus is also the object of our joy. How can we think of his great love for us manifested on the Cross and confirmed in the Resurrection and not leap for joy! For us, joy is the inner delight of knowing we are infinitely loved by God and there’s no greater confirmation of that than our Savior’s sacrifice. When I look at the Cross, it produces sadness; it furrows my heart to a deeper repentance and engagement with the Good News. But the Cross is simultaneously a source of joy for me, reminding me of the length and depth of God’s love for every person.
Let us ask for the grace to daily delight in the Son, the gift of the Father through the Spirit to us.
2. God Rejoices in Creation
Anyone familiar with Genesis knows that following the different acts of creation, we are told “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 17, 21, 25, 31). We can all identify with the joy that follows the creation of a good thing, whether it’s something simple like an apple pie or sublime like a oil painting. This idea of God rejoicing over creation is confirmed by St. John Paul II. Speaking of the mysterious “rest” of God on the seventh day (God, after all, never tires or becomes weary), the pope said, “It speaks, as it were, of God’s lingering before the “very good” work (Genesis 1:31) which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight. This is a “contemplative” gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved. It is a gaze which God casts upon all things, but in a special way upon man, the crown of creation” (Dies Domini, 11). Job learns that even the angels sang at the event, shouting for joy! (Job 38:7).
The Believer Rejoices in the Creator and His Creation
All of creation is invited to enter the joy of their Creator. The Psalms regularly remind us, “The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy” (Psalms 65:12-13). Psalm 98 tells us the trees sing with joy, the rivers clap their hands and the mountains joyfully shout (Psalms 98:8, 12). A key characteristic of joy is it is contagious, especially when that joy begins with our Creator.
One of my greatest joys is when I spend time in creation, whether I’m walking our ranch in Idaho, hiking the hills or snorkeling in the ocean. I have friends who don’t attend Church who are fond of saying “creation is my cathedral.” I wonder if we can’t all faintly hear creation sing its song of worship to its creator and that’s part of the awe we each feel in the great outdoors. I don’t hesitate to remind them that although they may have a legitimately “religious” experience in the woods, this created world is never an end in itself. It’s majesty, beauty, and intelligent design point to the Creator behind it, who is the true and unquenchable source of joy we all seek. Spend some sustained time out of doors in the coming weeks. Rejoice over the beauty of God’s creation and consider composing your own psalm of joy to the Lord.
3. God Rejoices in You!
Wait? What?? It’s easy to see that God rejoices over his perfect Son, and it’s no great leap to accept his divine delight in the majestic universe he has created …but me? David expressed this same sentiment 3,000 years ago, “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place—What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8:4-5).
And yet, the Scriptures repeatedly confirm you are a source of God’s joy. Here’s two of my favorite passages from the prophets:
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival” (Zephaniah 3:17).
God sings with joy about you! In a marriage metaphor, Isaiah tells us, “For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). Even doubting David would later learn this truth (2 Samuel 22:20).
Certainly God doesn’t rejoice when we sin, but he and heaven rejoice every time we repent (Luke 15:7) and his joy is multiplied when we reflect his own divine qualities in our daily lives. Jeremiah puts it well, “but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24). Micah echoes this language, which we will hear again in this coming Lenten season, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
God’s Joy in Us Sustains Our Joy
Remember our definition of joy above, “joy is the inner delight of knowing we are infinitely loved by God”? When the evening news or life’s soul-sapping circumstances try to steal our joy, we simply return to the truth the Scriptures proclaim and what the old black spiritual intones, “This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.” Nehemiah reminded his ancient audience discouraged by their own struggles with sin and opposition to their building project, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). After speaking of his departure, Jesus sustained his fearful disciples with these words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
This coming Ash Wednesday will greet us with the sobering words, “you are dust and to dust you will return.” It’s not intended to discourage us but to wake us up to the brevity and fragility of this life. Let us use every moment to rejoice in God the Son, to join creation in it’s song of joyful worship, and be sustained by God’s joyful glance over us as we reflect his qualities to those around us, so at the end of our earthly sojourn we may hear those wonderful words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23).