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12 June 2018

Joy and the “happy Christian.”

Too many Christians are pursuing one instead of the other.

Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It’s a great feeling. It’s a fruit of the Spirit too, y’know: Anyone who follows Jesus, who listens to the Holy Spirit, oughta experience joy more often than not. We should have a positive, optimistic view of the world—not because it’s good, for holy shnikes it’s not; but because God’s fixing it and saving people. We should be friendly, engaging, helpful, and be fun to be around. Our joy oughta be contagious.

And yet.

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this: We’ve all met “joyful” Christians who just plain rubbed us the wrong way. A little too happy. A little too friendly, too cheerful, too pleased. They’re so chipper, you kinda want to feed them into one. They’re off-putting.

Whenever I express my discomfort about such people, most Christians will respond, “I know, right? What’s with them?” But every so often I’ll get rebuked by someone who wants to know why I have a problem with joy. I don’t. I have a problem with fake joy.

There are such people as Christians who lack joy. You might be thinking of dark Christians, who are as joyless as they come, but I’m generally thinking of people with emotional problems. Sometimes it’s purely biological: Their brains aren’t making the proper chemicals, so joy is physically impossible. Sometimes it’s psychological: They’ve had terrible or traumatic experiences in the past, and suppress emotion instead of trying to control it and deal with it in any healthy way. They don’t trust themselves to feel anything, much less joy. Or they were forced to suppress emotion. Or it’s present-tense: They live in a really unhealthy environment, so they still suppress emotion.

Such people have been taught, by similarly joyless people, that joy isn’t an emotion. It’s a mental state. You choose to feel content, regardless of circumstances. This, they claim, is what the scripture’s authors meant by “joy.”

Rubbish. As I pointed out in my article on joy, it’s not at all how joy was practiced in the bible. When people felt joy, they were happy. When people still feel joy, they’re happy. And when people aren’t happy, can’t feel happy, or won’t permit themselves happiness: They lack joy. Their substitutes for the real thing, whether they realize it or not, are fake. If they realize it, it’s hypocrisy. If they don’t, it’s because they’ve been deceived by people who are just fine with them having no joy in their lives.

Those people who give me pushback? They’re usually faking joy. They rarely experience great happiness. They tend instead to be angry, argumentative, divisive, pessimistic, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, bitter, unforgiving, envious, or any other such works of the flesh. Their problem with me isn’t really that they’re trying to defend joy: They’re trying to make sure I don‘t expose the fake stuff.

So when I complain about shiny happy Christians, their pushback is an attempt to shut me up through shock and awe: “You’ve got a problem. You’re a killjoy. You lack the Spirit. I’ve got joy.” Yeah, you got something, but ’tain’t joy.

Most people can identify true joy when we see it. It’s attractive and desirable. What the annoyingly happy Christian is doing, is trying to psyche themselves into happiness. “Fake it till you make it,” as motivational speakers put it. They might actually think they’re obeying James:

James 1.2 KWL
My fellow Christians, whenever you’re surrounded by the various things which challenge you,
command everything to be joy.

But fakery is hypocrisy, and “fake it till you make it” only means you get more practice at faking it. You don’t necessarily get better at it, though; you’re not fooling as many people as you think. Joy is winsome, but fake joy is weird and unsettling. Challenge it, and instead of turning into amusement at such a silly idea as faking happiness, it immediately turns into rage. That should tell us everything.

To a degree, sometimes a large degree, the reason we find it unsettling is because the Holy Spirit is warning us: “This joy isn’t real. This person’s a hypocrite. Heads up.” He wants us to know him and have true joy, not this hollow substitute which drives people away.

When fake joy is a medical condition.

I mentioned brain-chemical deficiency. Sometimes there’s a different deficiency, when the brain’s cranking out too many endorphins. It’s called mania: These people have absolutely no reason to be happy, and it’s not even because the Holy Spirit has granted them joy in spite of their circumstances. They’re excited, euphoric, hyperactive, and often delusional.

Mania looks a lot like illicit drug use, because that’s why many people take illicit drugs: They’re trying to be happy. They’re trying to induce mania. Addicts have many telltale signs to identify them, and manic people share a lot of those signs.

Since they don’t abuse drugs, manic people often figure they don’t need help. Put ’em on medication to control the mania, and they feel like you’ve switched off their happiness. That’s why it’s so hard to keep them on medication: They don’t need pills to get high; they only need to stop the pills. Sound dangerous? But often a manic Christian will assume God wants them to be happy all the time, to feel this way. Didn’t he make them that way?

Okay: I’m not a psychiatrist. Likely neither are you. We non-professionals aren’t qualified to diagnose someone as manic. All we can do is notice some bothersome behaviors, point ’em to professionals, and let a doctor or licensed therapist diagnose them. Sometimes the problem is illicit drug use, or even an allergic reaction to something else (as I’ve learned by experience). Sometimes they need therapy for other things, and mania’s just the symptom. Regardless, don’t presume the problem is entirely spiritual, psychological, or hypocrisy. It might be medical, and they need medical help.

The rest of the time: Just drop the act, folks. You’re not fooling anyone.