In his book, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis observes, "All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be'." (78) To my mind, Lewis was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, and he wrote an entire book explaining the concept of "joy" and how he found it. This quote, however, provokes thought. What exactly is "joy?"
The Bible (and a number of children's songs) talk about the "joy of the Lord." Philippians 4:4 commands believers to "Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS." (emphasis mine) The Old Testament talks about "joyful singing" as a response to blessing and triumph, but in the New Testament, James writes that believers should "Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds..." (James 1:2) How can the same term be applied as a response in the best of times and the worst of times? Then there is the response of the Israelites when God accepted the first offerings of the Aaronic priesthood: "Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown" (Leviticus 9:24.)
Based on biblical sources then, "joy" must be a response rather than a feeling or something to grasp. The Leviticus passage indicates it is intense, while the other passages show that the circumstances aren't a factor in it. Lewis recognized it as a desire for that which is unattainable because it is too far past or too far away or too far in the future.
It occurs to me that Lewis may have been more accurate if he had said and instead of or. (Not that I claim to compete with his intellect, and I recognize that this statement is fairly early in his memoir.) What is joy? Joy is a response to a glimpse that creates a longing for what cannot be known precisely because HE is "longer ago" and "further away" and "still 'about to be.'"
Humanity, in its limited perspective, cannot understand joy entirely, because joy is experiencing the holy, knowing God intimately, and worshipping Him passionately. We catch moments now and then when the veil of the finite mind is lifted and we see that Shekhinah glory out of the corner of our minds' eye. Those moments serve to intensify our longing for HIM, the "longer ago" and "further away" and "still 'about to be.'"
Paul wrote, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12) That hope and longing and desire is the essence of joy, and knowing that the time will come when we are in His presence requires us to fall on our faces before Him crying, "Holy is He. Hallelujah."
Lewis, Clive Staples, Surprised by Joy; The Shape of My Early Life, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, NewYork and London, 1955
Bible Gateway. Zondervan. 1995-2009. Web. 31 July 2010