Have you ever finished watching a TV show or movie and then felt a little guilty?
Or what about when you have a great time at a party but then feel weird because Jesus was never mentioned — but you still had a great time? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the best time ever? Isn’t he supposed to always be the one that makes me happy?
Pastor Joe faces these questions head on in his awesome book, The Things of Earth. This book has been a game-changer for me. By God’s grace, I was deeply involved in the lives of Pastor Michael, Emily and Lily Thiel during the time of Henryk’s life and death. I had a front row seat to their suffering and was profoundly affected by it. God is faithful and good, but it doesn’t mean the pain isn’t cripplingly real. It feels like I have been sad for well over two years straight, and at this part in the journey, my heart has a very strong desire to feel lighthearted and happy again.
My whole life is based on the fact that Jesus is King and his tomb is empty. That reality has massive implications for my joy and peace and courage and humility and everything else. But sometimes I am left without the feelings of delight that I long for. Is it okay that watching “Parks and Rec” seems to do the trick? And doing back squats and box jumps, playing games with my friends, eating good food and drinking good drinks, watching people get nailed in the face on YouTube, going sledding and singing my heart out to that new song on KDWB?
I see evidence in God’s word that he wants us to be happy. Jesus prays for us to have fullness of joy, he said he came so we could have life and have it abundantly, at his hand there are pleasures forever more. He also invented humor. God is the most hilarious being in the universe. There’s no way he is infinitely cheerful but then expects us to stay intense and serious all the time . . . right? He wants us to laugh, right?
So how do I reconcile these things?
I want to be happy yet I have real feelings of condemnation because the things of earth (the non-“Christian” activities) are things that make me laugh.
God uses creation and our work of it (culture) as a mode of communication to us. He wants to tell us things and he uses the things he made to do so. “The sunrise is not just a sunrise; it’s a word. It has meaning, intent, communicative content. It bears a message. So do clouds and laughter and honey and pearls and chairs and soda” (63). We must enjoy the gifts in order to understand God better. The Bible says to “eat the honey, for it is good.” Then it says that wisdom is good, just like the honey. Pastor Joe connects them for us saying, “there must be a savoring as honey before there can ever be a savoring of honey as a pointer to divine wisdom” (71). We must eat the honey and truly enjoy it! These earthly things are training and expanding our souls so we can handle the huge realities of God. We can ride rollercoasters over and over again, and in doing so have a better idea of the breathtaking thrills of God’s glory.
It is wise and healthy to periodically test ourselves to compare our love for God to our love for his gifts, but once we know that God really is supreme, we are free to dive back into the pumpkin crunch cake and enjoy every bite to the fullest because,
when we love God supremely and fully, we are able to integrate our joy in God and our joy in his gifts . . . God’s gifts become avenues for enjoying him, beams of glory that we chase back to the source. We don’t set God and his gifts in opposition to each other, as though they are rivals.
This book helped me realize that it’s okay to really enjoy chips and salsa! God made them and wants me to enjoy them! I understand that, because of Jesus’s cross, I haven’t been “in trouble” since I trusted in him and his work for me. But this book reminded me on this all over again. It was like I’d been walking around with this box of Romans 8:1 donuts in my hands for years, but now I actually opened the box and ate the donuts of no condemnation. No condemnation tastes good.