Can I Rejoice Without God?
"I know that there is nothing better for men than to rejoice & do good things while they live." - Ecclesiastes 3:12
When read carefully, it doesn't take a theologian to understand this verse. If we take it at face value, the wisdom from King Solomon is clear. It is the spirit of this verse which inspired my wife and me to start Rejoice & Do Good.
There is a distinction being made (I encourage you to read the other verses before and after this one). We all know deep down that we are eternal beings. The soul can never be destroyed and lives on for all of eternity. And yet, we are here on this earth for 80 years give or take. What do we make of this contrast? How does one cope with this duality: an earthbound body, with a soul destined for eternity.
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis explains:
"...If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
Rejoice. Solomon begins his statement with "...I know there is nothing better for men than to rejoice..." When the wisest man on earth says "I know," we should be obliged to listen.
First, we must understand what the writer of Ecclesiastes is getting at. For the cynics out there, it is easy to read this verse, and think, “sure, easy for him to say.” It’s like someone telling you to “be happy.”
When I read Ecclesiastes, a few things jump out at me. This book brilliantly outlines the futile search for the meaning of life and the meaning in life that so often forces us out into the streets to yell at the moon. (Or start a podcast). It beautifully illustrates the broad path of delusion the world directs us down as we seek happiness.
Thus, if we try to seek out a reason to rejoice via the broad path lighted with the dim and terminal lamps of worldly wisdom, then we have doomed our souls to eternal fire and we cannot truly ever rejoice. How could we?
We Cannot Rejoice Without God
“…Also He has put eternity in their hearts…” Ecc. 3:11
It is here, where the paths diverge. The narrow way and the broad path. We must understand and know that we are created beings, bearing the image of the One who created us, with eternal souls.
To deny this, is to deny the greatest Truth. To deny this Truth, is to deny The Truth. The truest thing for everyone for all time. It is so true, in fact, that it is an embarrassing lie to proclaim that one can find any semblance of joy in this life by actively denying the truth. This is so unnatural, untrue, and insufficient, Paul calls it an act of suppression. Meaning, there is no atheism. A belief that there is no God. No, there is only a suppression of the Truth itself.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Romans 1:18-23
For those “Truth Seekers,” out there, look no further:
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
Now, how could we ever rejoice truly, if we are living a lie? Make no mistake, this isn’t simply an innocent oversight, or a naïve and well-meaning misinterpretation, no, this is an intentional act of suppression. It’s on purpose. How could anyone find joy in this life, even if they’ve lived a relatively good one, with minimal suffering, believing that there is no God, no meaning, no hope, and no place for the eternal soul? All the while, either consciously or unconsciously denying the Truth woven into the very fiber of their being?
Look no further than the world we live in. We need only watch the perverse ideology pervade our culture. An ideology marked by Godlessness. My heart breaks for the addicted, suicidal, the broken, and lost. Our youngest most cherished children are being groomed to believe that their only hope for joy is within themselves.
Adult, “fools professing to be wise…” burdening children with the responsibility of producing that which only God can. A recipe for disaster and a playground for demons.
Our Only Hope
How do I Rejoice?
I suppose there is no simple answer to this question. However, if we have heard and believed the Gospel, then we are well on our way.
And maybe we should ask a better question. Why should I rejoice?
God created us and gave us the full gambit of emotion to go along with our lives here on earth. We can experience sadness, anger, and joy! I think I can safely assert that our emotions are on a bit of a sliding scale and lie within a spectrum, but those are the main three. Built into our software.
So, if we innately have the ability to rejoice, then the why is what we need to discover.
Our why will always lead back to God.
He made us:
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
He loves us and wants the best for us:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
He loves you, personally:
“Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well…”
Okay, there are some practical steps we can take. After all, joy and rejoicing are frequently about perspective.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
The world teaches us that we must somehow, with our own willpower, manipulate our circumstances in such a way, that only then can we be happy. Only then can we have joy. Just the right family, the right job, the right amount of money, the right look, car.
The truth is that happiness is temporary. It is fleeting. Frankly, our constant search for things that make us happy is completely self-centered. We’re consumed with it.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a man’s revelation about the vapid, empty, pursuit of happiness without God.
“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’”
The Holman Study Bible Says:
“Hevel, the Hebrew word for vanity, basically means vapor or breath, but it comes to mean vain, transitory, or futile. It does not necessarily mean that something is altogether worthless, but it implies that something is at best only of fleeting value. In the context of Ecclesiastes, it means that things done, “under the sun” are only of temporary significance and therefore, set against eternity, they have no real value.”
Sure, we’ll find many things that will make us happy. And we will be sincerely pleased. The things that make us happy aren’t necessarily even bad. It is the incessant and superficial delusion that happiness is somehow going to replace meaning that ruins souls and crushes spirits.
But real joy, the kind stored up deep within our souls can only be experienced when we are in right relation to our Creator.
Biblical joy, like much of scripture, is completely counterintuitive to our nature. It, in fact, has very little to do with us and everything to do with God:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.”
“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.”
“This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
When we understand and believe the Gospel, then we can experience true joy, and sincerely rejoice. Not because of our circumstances, but in spite of them. The Gospel will pry our eyes off of ourselves and onto Jesus Christ, and it is here that we encounter the source of joy itself.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
We can only experience true joy when we are saved. It is when we have believed and repented that we come into contact with saving Grace and it is that saving Grace which fills us with the Spirit of God.