Analysing everything to death and sucking the joy out of life

Christians are pretty expert at sucking the joy out of everything. You name it, we can find problems with it. Even if we can’t nail a specific issue to make you feel guilty for enjoying something, you can bet we’ll insist on a full introspective analysis of motives before you can even consider enjoying the thing. Then, if you do determine to enjoy it and go on to do so, you better make sure you don’t enjoy it too much!

We seem to often have a problem with joy. Even Lloyd-Jones’ book – Joy Unspeakable – features a picture of him looking miserable as sin on the back of it. In every way, that book title is a misnomer. How can you write a book about something which is apparently unspeakable? How can you then speak about that unspeakable joy next to a picture of you with a face like a wet weekend? That isn’t to knock the book at all; just to illustrate the fact we can have something of a problem with joy. If it is unspeakable, we are often certain it’s unshowable and, let’s be honest, potentially unreal.

A lot of this instinct comes out at Christmas. The festive period is fine, so long as we don’t enjoy it too much. Or, enjoying it is fine, but we have to analyse it to death before we can confidently just enjoy it. Anything we may think, say or do have to be pored over before we can legitimately enjoy anything. That isn’t to say we should never be introspective, aware of potential sin, and keen to honour the Lord in what we say, think or do, it’s just I don’t think analysing everything to death in the pursuit of that leads to the evident joy Jesus came to bring. Indeed, it is something of a joy-killer.

Someone will inevitably say, ‘whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ That surely warrants some introspection and consideration about ‘whatever you do’. Doesn’t that warrant asking whether this actually brings glory to God? Whilst I think that question is valid, it seems to miss the wider context into which Paul made that comment. Paul’s concern seems to be about not giving or taking offence. You have no need to judge another before the Lord and try your best not to do what is going to cause offence. The solution he comes to is to neither rule out or in the eating of meat offered to idols (the question under consideration). He essentially says, ‘whatever you do’ i.e. eat or don’t eat, do it with a clean conscience and try not to give or take offence over it.

Indeed, when it comes to analysing everything to death, Paul is quite clear in that section: ‘eat everything that is sold in the meat market, without raising questions for the sake of conscience, since the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.‘ His answer seems to actively shy away from analysing everything to death and instead towards just getting on with your life. Paul is saying it is okay to just enjoy stuff and not suck the joy out of life by analysing everything to death. As the Proverbs put it: ‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’ There is nothing more miserable than constantly second guessing every decision we make and analysing it to death. This sort of approach to life is at the heart of legalism. But the law of Christ, the law of love, is less about specifically what you do and more why you are doing it. A heart set on the Lord Jesus will not need to analyse things to death, it will just do things because it loves Jesus and the Spirit is prompting the person to do them.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus came to bring us life to the full. But there seems something particularly jarring about that claim held alongside a belief that we must analyse every move we make, in minute detail, before we can do or enjoy anything. if we have been freed from the letter of the law, have we not similarly been freed from the need for minute analysis to determine whether our every move falls within the law? Doesn’t grace, and the law of love, mean that we are able to act and live more freely? My every move is not being judged in that way, rather my love for Christ is ultimately what matters. That love for Christ will inevitably lead me to do certain things (and not do other things), but I won’t need to analyse everything to death to know it. I’ll just live my life, in line with my affections, and glorify Christ – not so much by keeping the letter of any law – but by so acting in line with what someone who loves Jesus will by the Spirit at work in us.

I am saying all this, as I noted at the top of this post, because we have this in abundance in us at Christmas. It often comes out as a form of Gnosticism that wants to insist the spirit is good but material is bad which, in the end, just turns into another form of guilt-based legalism. It is a legalism that requires analysis so we can ensure we are acting rightly and keeping Jesus happy. But Jesus did not free us from the curse of the law only to put us under a new form of legalism. He didn’t free us from the guilt and shame of sin only to bind us to a new form of guilt and shame. Jesus came so that our joy might abound, not so we would analyse everything to death and suck the joy out of everything joyful.

Which is importance when it comes to Christmas. I love Christmas. I don’t consider it especially important from a religious perspective. It’s not anything commanded in scripture. Which means we are free to celebrate or not as we please. Whether we celebrate or don’t celebrate, to paraphrase Paul, we should do it to the glory of God. And, I think legitimately in line with him, we should take joy in whatever it is we do for Christ’s sake. Jesus didn’t come to make us pitiable and miserable. He came to bring us joy unbounded. If the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and there are things to be enjoyed therein, let us enjoy them with all the joy that Jesus came to bring us. Let’s not be little Gnostics, let’s not bring in a new legalism, let’s just enjoy God’s goodness because it hardly commends the gospel to anyone else when we don’t.