God-Like Joy

Rachel Stewart Johnson's photo.

When Michael and I got married 16 years ago, our officiant, Father Kevin Novack, gave a memorable homily in which he reflected on the concept of “God-like joy.” We don’t hear much about God being happy, or joyful, or possessing other human emotions like pride. Yet we do impart negative emotions to God, a male figure who is occasionally angry, impatient or even vengeful. Why the lack of a happy God? Why doesn’t our understanding convey what we would probably enjoy having around: a playful figure, one who marvels at the greatness of creation, one with whom we can sit back and enjoy a lazy afternoon? Scriptures instead present God and Christ as a counselor, a source, one who can help us endure what comes. We are urged into patience, contemplation, and prayer. We are told to seek God’s help. God is not happy, but God is wise. So what then might “God-like joy” look like? I think the joy of God is in our learning. It is in the path. It is in the persisting despite trials. It is patience and quiet and chins turned finally up. The point of God is not to convince us that we ought to know only light hearts and dancing and leisure. It is to compel us to recognize the strength that exists within. God-like joy is to take what comes in life and recognize it as our own, as blemished and uncomfortable and unfair as it might seem. God-like joy might be to bear witness to the evidence that beauty is persistent. As my mother enters this denouement of her earthly life, brain and body both markedly diminished, she is at some level weak and pitiable, dependent on others, losing more every week. But she who gave much of her mind, heart, and treasure to God still folds her hands in response to prayer, still flutters dry and mute lips at the words. She has been given much in return. She was not made to avoid struggle, as has not a one of us, but I do not believe she is alone. God-like joy can be carried by even the most frail; in fact perhaps there it most meaningfully rests.