Be Joyful or Something: Thoughts on New Year's Eve
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
When I was a good youth group kid, I was rip-roaring ready to convert my friends to Evangelical Protestantism (or "Christianity," as I called it). The Cosmic Narrative™ made so much sense to me: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. I was ready to do my part in bringing as many people into the fold as possible as my duty between the Redemption (sacrifice and resurrection of Christ) and the Restoration (eternity with God).
I had a lot of energy and willingness behind this calling, but I repeatedly ran into 2 major hangups:
1. Abject Misery. While I was allegedly chomping on the fruit of the Spirit, I found myself utterly lacking in one particular area: Joy. I remember thinking to myself, Maybe not everybody gets to experience joy in the Christian life. Maybe a lack of joy is simply my cross to bear, and I just need to accept that. I could theologically state that through Christ my guilt was lifted and that he was my antidepressant and that my life had totally made a 180, etc. However, more often than not my mood was just a notch below neutral, and the “Joy of the Lord” seemed to be something that was simply not part of God’s Plan for My Life. (I also just straight up had depression but that's a story for another time.)
2. Apathy. Living into the Cosmic Narrative meant I could enjoy a relatively detached high school existence, as the present day was simply the foretaste of the world to come. Once all the nonsense of the pre-Restored world wrapped up, then we could finally truly live and enjoy the fruits of our proselytizing efforts. However, even as a deeply evangelically-minded fifteen-year-old, I was routinely visited by the question, Yeah, but what do we do in the meantime? Just make converts? … Okay. We’re just gonna…make converts then…
As I grew older, the question of “What do we do in the meantime?” Never fully left my side, and as the question grew stronger, my evangelicalism grew weaker.
Growing up a short drive from the Atlantic Ocean, I spent a lot of time at the beach staring out at the horizon, squinting to see West Africa. One summer day in my early 20s, as I gazed out at the infinity of restless water, I felt a heavy sense of gratitude.
I didn’t sense some kind of “foretaste of glory divine.” I felt as though I had received something profoundly divine at that precise moment.
My response? Sincere, joyful engagement with God.
This holiday season has got me thinking about joy, and this Christmas season has got me thinking about Ultimate Cosmic Stuff. I think my teenaged evangelical self (and those who influenced my teenaged evangelical self) missed the point of the Cosmic Narrative—to live in Spirit-saturated union with God forever. The different milestones of the narrative provide helpful structure for understanding the basics of Christian belief, but when it becomes the primary thing we hang our hats on, it becomes, if we’re honest, pretty unfulfilling.
And produces a lot of depressed teenagers.
As such, I would like to propose a new Cosmic Narrative:
Formerly “Creation”: God creates a way in which we can exist and enjoy Spirit-saturated union with them forever.
Formerly “Fall”: Humanity takes steps backward from this idea of Spirit-saturated union with God forever. God remains present and is ready at all times to continue living in Spirit-saturated union with humanity forever.
Formerly “Redemption”: Jesus communicates that Spirit-saturated union with God forever remains an option to all people groups.
Formerly “Restoration”: We continue enjoying Spirit-saturated union with God forever.
As I sit in my office on New Year’s Eve watching snowflakes swirl in waves out the window, the prospect that this very moment is a gift for my neighbors and me to enjoy strikes me as wildly more compelling than something to immediately log in my apologetics notes. Our participation in a system that weaves together hydrated crystals in the sky to softly send down to earth means a lot more to me than the eradication of my guilt. This blessed union, to me, is a theology worth holding.
See what joy we're cooking up at Fratres Dei.
December 31, 2018 | Denver, Colorado
#theology #spiritual direction #spiritual advice