The Problem of Joy

If we accept that God is holy and powerful and that we are disobedient and rebellious, we have a problem. Actually we have thousands of problems, but they can all be placed under one general heading: joy.

Why does God love us? Why does he send sun and rain on the just and on the unjust? Why do we have sunrises and sunsets of such beauty? Why are we allowed hummingbirds and chocolate?

This has become my default reaction when people raise the “problem of pain” or the “problem of evil,” which are really two sides to the same issue. If God is…, why is there…? I prefer the joy side because it reframes the question in a more accurate light. God does not owe us anything.

Consider some of those struck down by God in the Scriptures — Aaron’s sons for not following the liturgy, Uzzah for not following the rules on safe handling of the symbol of God’s presence, Ananias and Sapphira for being posers in church. If we agree that God was just in each of these cases, how do explain his laxity toward us?

My wife and I had the conversation again last night. Why have we been able to remain married — and very happily so — for over 25 years when so many others haven’t? There is no magic to point to, but only God’s grace to us. It is amazing and humbling as we are well aware that we aren’t any better than anyone else. But we are not the epicenter of God’s grace. We see others being given what appears to be God’s extravagant grace in their struggle and pain.

We are not to focus on what we don’t have, however. That is, after all, the 10th commandment. And more than merely being a commandment, it is an act of ingratitude to have a great gift and look at someone else with a different gift and ask, “Why can’t I have that, too?”

Orthodoxy has always taught that we have done nothing to merit Christ’s death as an atonement for our sins. That is certainly something we should contemplate and meditate upon in wonder and thankfulness to God. We would do well to also generalize that thankfulness and wonder. The General Thanksgiving of the Daily Offices teaches us to live in gratitude toward God.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. And we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ of Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

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