I am bent toward realistic pessimism. Stock markets will go bad, my health will get worse, and I will die in a way that is not my first preference. These and many other prophecies seem realistic to me, and if I can maintain a certain level of this “Eyore-ness,” they might even ward off some future disappointment (though it seems odd to try to minimize disappointment by living with a low-grade version of it now).
There is, of course, a better way. God’s words to us are burgeoning with hope. His story consists of many promises made and kept, once-and-for-all forgiveness granted, oneness with his people, and death conquered. In other words, my realistic pessimism is better known as unbelief. Though some things will go bad, they are small matters compared to what goes well. As such, it is time to take seriously the inexorable movement of Scripture toward hope and then on to joy.
To get there, I can start with repentance. After all, my version of reality can veer off into self-protection and self-trust. I prefer my interpretation of life to the Lord’s. So I need his forgiveness, mercy and his grace.
From there I give my attention to his joy, which seems to be within reach because I can find joy in other people’s experiences. For example, I can be a bit indifferent about good things in my own life, but I get excited about good things for other people. When my family or friends are excited about something good—a pregnancy, a conversion, a long-awaited job—I get excited with them. With this in mind, if God has joy, then I can enter into it too.
Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10)
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)
Our aim then is to participate in God’s present and future joy. There are many reasons for his joy, and part of our work is to search out those reasons. But for now, it is enough to know that our God is presently the triune, joyful one. Our mission is to both rest in and know this joy.
Natural tendencies toward melancholy are no excuse because joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Neither is our broken and troubled world a restraint to joy, because it is the tenor of the kingdom of heaven, where God’s will is done perfectly. Joy, as C. S. Lewis said, is the real business of heaven, and our present job is to be about our Father’s business.