How the gospel brings delight to the dejected.
The condition of our fallen world offers much cause for sadness and despair. This should not surprise us. Countless ages of human technological advancements and experiential knowledge have provided neither immunity, nor solution, to the sickness of sin that covers creation like a dark and sinister vestment. We inhabit a cursed earth—a land East of Eden where evil is prevalent and creation groans to be fully and permanently released from this present darkness (Gen 3; Rom 8:22; Eph 6:12). Citing headlines to prove my point would add nothing to the merits of the claim that the world can be a lousy place at times. “Crisis and pain” is the mantra of the collective media.
Nonetheless, God can use our problems to open our eyes to the riches of His abounding grace. Recently, economic challenges and the upheaval of pandemic have given many of us occasion to walk a difficult path. Over the last two years I watched my own path descend toward burnout while working and living internationally. My path further descended into a chaotic year of heavy pandemic-induced restrictions. This led to a career change I never expected, followed by my wife’s diagnosis with a life-threatening brain tumor. Shattered expectations. Physical and emotional pain. Thwarted plans. Disappointment. Upheaval. Our encounters with the world, the flesh and the devil offer ample opportunity to sink deeper into frustration and melancholy.
This gospel gratification emanates from the very heart of Christ, and is a window into God’s saving, equipping, sustaining and glorifying grace.
But as we descend into the abysmal depths, we may find ourselves surprised by unexpected divine grace.
We may sense the beauty of God’s presence in ways we never thought possible. If we pay attention, we are given the seemingly paradoxical and counterintuitive pleasure of God’s goodness amid the pain of our despair. This gospel gratification emanates from the very heart of Christ, and is a window into God’s saving, equipping, sustaining and glorifying grace. I call it soteriological euphoria—salvation that brings elation, grace that brings bliss.
Euphoria in who God is
There are only two real options for sufferers in this world: adoration or anguish. Unfortunately, we are good at the later. Anguish is our default. In hard times, we react in anger, frustration, fear, doubt and the like. Alternately, hard times generate a tendency to divert ourselves with inch-deep positive thinking or petty amusements—anything to keep our minds off our bitter circumstances. Rarely do these methods alleviate our pain. All-out despair is never far removed from such tactics.
Adoration is the better option because it takes our focus off ourselves and turns it to the majesty and beauty of God. Soteriological euphoria happens through eulogy, or blessing.1 Now, when we think of eulogy, we think of impassioned funeral disquisitions. However, biblical eulogies are much more than this. In Scripture, they appear as outbursts of praise to God in recognition of His divine attributes and in acknowledgment of the glorious works of His hands.
Ephesians 1:3-14 contains one of the most powerful and explicit eulogies in the New Testament:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…!”
As the passage unfolds, Paul offers a list of reasons to praise God through a string of verses that in the original language constitute one extended uninterrupted sentence. Blessed is the God who chose His people according to His sovereign will! Blessed is the God who sanctified His people! Blessed is the God who, in love, predestined His people to adoption (Ephesians 1:5)! Blessed is the God who redeems, forgives and heaps grace upon His beloved people in all wisdom and understanding! Blessed is the God who gave Jesus Christ His Son to save His people by His death on the cross!
Only when we begin to grasp how great and wonderous God is, will we be able to resituate ourselves in proper context to this fallen world and in context to our future glorified state.
Only when we begin to grasp how great and wonderous God is, will we be able to resituate ourselves in proper context to this fallen world and in context to our future glorified state. Only when we are overwhelmed by the majesty and glory of God will we have no other choice but to let the cares of the world fall away.
If we resolve to meditate on who God is, we may find ourselves less hindered by impassive apathy or outright despair. After all, God is love (1 John 4:16). God is gracious (Psa 116:5). God is good (Nah 1:7). God is sovereign (Isa. 45:7-9). And God delights in offering us salvation (Phil 2:12-13). If we want more joy, it may be best to ask ourselves: “Who is God?”
Euphoria in what God does
Who God is naturally flows into what God does for His church. In Ephesians 1, the sovereign God is a God who oversees and orchestrates the details of our salvation and glorification. The God who predestines is a God who is intentional in His redemptive plan for His people. The God of grace is a God who extends unmerited favor to undeserving sinners. The God of love is One who initiates an adoption process that makes orphans into sons and foreigners into citizens (Eph 2:11-22; Gal 4:1-7).
Soteriological euphoria comes from God’s own joy in saving myriad malefactors who make up this world. God delights in offering us the grace of His salvation. Ephesians 1:8 says that the forgiveness of sins was “lavished” on God’s people by grace. To lavish denotes exceeding abundance. This is not something given indiscriminately and reluctantly. To lavish expresses elation in giving: to abundantly pour out mercy, to enthusiastically dump buckets full of love and cascading effusions of grace on undeserving sinners who are parched by their state of unrighteousness.
God saved us so that He might seat us in splendor. Ephesians 2:6-7 maintains that the redeemed are raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly places—enthroned as participants in royalty. Even now, in this present world, we are elevated and adorned with the riches of grace, which will carry into eternity. The adornment of true joy will never fade because it is linked to the joy-giver Himself. It is not like cheap, gaudy bling that looks good until its paint starts to peel and it fades with wear and time. It is not like the toys we loved as children—toys that in time become donations, castaways and dust-collectors.
To lavish expresses elation in giving: to abundantly pour out mercy, to enthusiastically dump buckets full of love and cascading effusions of grace on undeserving sinners who are parched by their state of unrighteousness.
The joy of redemption is not just elation at the thought of one day being ushered into the presence of God but elation in the here and now of Christ-centered living. Even as we are seated with Christ, we are also walking with Him in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called, in humility, gentleness, patience and love (Eph 4:1-2). God allows us to stand with Him (1 Cor 16:13), sit with Him (Luk 10:38–42), follow Him (Matt 16:24) and bow before Him in worship (Phil 2:10).
Euphoria in worship
Worship may be the key to euphoria. Joy comes from encounters with external realities that impress upon our perceptions. Something outside of ourselves has to be responsible for giving us such feelings—a baby’s smile, a warm rain shower, fresh-baked bread, pleasant memories. We do not create euphoria; we receive it only when it is given by something worthy of effecting it. What could be more worthy than God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son whom He has sent and the Holy Spirit who indwell us? The joy of salvation is bestowed, not conjured.
By now you should sense that joy is more than a concept, conviction or conclusion we draw after careful reflection on various facets of the truths that present themselves to us in the world. Euphoria can only be impressed on us from the outside, much like a feeling of fear or surprise.
Think of it this way: My children find much delight in trying to startle me. They will sometimes hide around the corner at the base our stairs when they hear me coming so they can jump out and scare me half to death. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they do not. But when they do, I have never paused to ponder their sudden movement and loud sudden cry. Nor do I carefully reflect on their actions to deliberate as to whether they should merit a response. That is never how startling works. The sensation of being stunned is purely reactive. It is pure emotion. It is bequeathed, never summoned.
We do not create euphoria; we receive it only when it is given by something worthy of effecting it. What could be more worthy than God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son whom He has sent and the Holy Spirit who indwell us?
How then do we get the pleasure of experiencing euphoria? Often, nothing immediate to us seems to be capable of producing such feelings. Our experiences of joy are frequently sapped by cares and distractions. Joy is often elusive and fleeting. The solution may be to let ourselves be swept into the presence of God. True joy, gospel joy, is impossible to separate from who God is and what He does. To revel in the joy of salvation, we must begin with worship. Revelation, creation and a history of divine activity in this world tell us who God is. God, Himself, tells us who He is in His Word. Are we listening? Are we letting the cares of the world drift away as we stand in overwhelming awe of God’s majesty and grace?
To ponder the cross of Jesus Christ, His death, His resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of the Father is to ponder something truly lovely. To accept God’s grace and think deeply on it gives us more than fleeting distractions from our anguished world. God releasing us from the captivity of sin makes us smile. God reanimating us, though we were dead in our transgressions and sins, makes us grin. God offering us eternity in His presence by faith in Christ gives us reason for lasting euphoria.
Eulogies in Scripture follow the Hebraic formula of the Berakah, or liturgical benediction, examples of which appear frequently in the Psalms.
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