Psalm 56:8 “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
I don’t know about you, but the joy of the Lord can escape me with all the cruelty I see happening to animals. It is easy to allow the thoughts and pictures in my mind of these abuses consume everything else.
But then I ask, in the face of such extreme suffering: Since God is asking us to be joyful (for the “joy of the Lord is our strength” – Nehemiah 8:10), how can he expect us to have joy in the face of all we see? It feels like we are not to feel pain or get angry, but to constantly be in some state of happiness or “joy”! How can this be? How do we (Psalms 47:1) clap our hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy? Or how do we (1 Thessalonians 5:16) rejoice always?
The Hebrews 12:2 verse in the photo above says that for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning it’s shame. So as I think about joy, I know there must be more to it than merely feeling happiness or emotional joy, for we know that Jesus must have felt the gambit of emotions that we do under the extreme burden he carried for all creation. Yet he remained steadfast in his relationship to the Father, the fruit of the Spirit sustaining and moving him forward toward the cross.
The World’s Definition of Joy
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, joy is defined as:
- the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires
- the expression or exhibition of such emotion
- a state of happiness or felicity
- a source or cause of delight
Under this definition, it isn’t a wonder we have such problems with the joy that scripture is talking about! The joy the world offers is fleeting, it implies the state of joy is circumstantial, can be falsely elated emotionalism, and is a pale imitation of the joy only the Lord can give us. Seeking this false understanding of joy can lead to other ailments such as depression, for Satan’s lies about joy are powerfully persuasive and the kind of joy our spirits crave is not satisfied by anything the world has to offer.
Sadly in our churches, we don’t find the teaching of scripture as pertaining to our treatment of animals (for food, clothing, sport, entertainment, in vivisection labs, and in the wild as we watch industry destroy and pollute their habitat) so we don’t know how to address the deficiencies of the fruit of the Spirit as welfarists when it comes to how we deal with the emotions inherent in advocating for them. The church unfortunately as a whole does not help us understand how to allow the Spirit to reign in us over our emotions when it comes to animal abuse.
The Biblical Understanding of Joy
Here is a sampling of what scripture says joy is about:
- Joy is a prominent feature of the true worship of God (I Chronicles 15:16; Ezra 3:12, 6:16; Psalm 16:11, 32:11, 51:12 and many more). Worshiping God is more than singing songs of praise, though this is one way we worship. We also worship him by how we live upon the earth. We teach others as animal advocates about God’s mission to restore the creation to his original intentions shown to us in the garden before the fall (Genesis 1:1-31). We allow the Holy Spirit to infuse us with joy in part because of this truth. When we do so, we give others hope that one day God’s Kingdom will indeed be fully restored and there will be no more suffering. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13. “He will wipe away every tear” (Revelations 7:17; 21:4).
- This kind of joy is a gift from God. It is not about success as the world gauges success; it is not about happiness as the world defines happiness (Galatians 5:22; Romans 15:13; Isaiah 9:3 and more). The kingdom of God “is…a matter…of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
- Doing God’s will increases our joy (Romans 5:1-5, 8-11; John 15:4-12; Isaiah 61:1-3). True joy comes from the presence of God. Psalms 16:11: “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy…”
- Circumstances cannot take away our joy (II Corinthians 6:10; James 1: 2,3; Philippians 2:17,18; 1 Peter 4:13 and others). Joy lifts us up above circumstances in the world, equips us to be the Kingdom the world needs to see. Joy and hope are intertwined, as are the other characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit (love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). These kingdom attributes attract others to God’s Kingdom!
We do not need to paste on a smile no matter what is going on in the world around us or in our own lives. We will get angry, feel pain, at the injustices in our world, and rightly so. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:13, rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory (character) is revealed. When we see progress on animal welfare issues, hear about or participate in animal rescue and in educational ventures involving the true scriptural view of God and animals, we are witnessing the character of Christ being revealed!
Joy is also a tool of spiritual warfare. We are pushing back the forces of chaos and evil when we allow the Holy Spirit to infuse us with the characteristics of his Spirit; we are weakening the strongholds the powers and principalities at work in this world have over matters involving animal welfare. These powers and principalities are behind the forces of chaos and evil and at the root of animal (indeed all) suffering, whether at the hands of mankind, through “natural disasters”, as well as within the animal kingdom itself.
Yahweh is greatly saddened by the amount of violence plaguing mankind and the animal kingdom. Isaiah 63:9 states, “In all their afflictions, He [God] was afflicted.” He is aggrieved at the suffering of the animals and earth he placed in our hands. Jeremiah tells us in 12:4, “How long must the land be parched and the grass in every field be withered? How long must the animals and the birds die because of the wickedness of the people who live in this land? For these people boast, “God will not see what happens to us” (see also: Jeremiah 9:10; Isaiah 5:8).
The Lord gets angry, to the point where he said he wishes he had never created us we grieve him so (Genesis 6). The bible is full of scripture where God expresses his grief and anger toward the violence of man (Leviticus 18:28; I Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Hosea 4:3; Amos 5:21-24; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Jeremiah 12:4; Isaiah 1:11, 15-17; Joel 1:18; Matthew 23:27 and more).
Yet God never loses sight of his joy over his creation and over us, when we turn to him! The destruction and violence plaguing us, animals and earth was never meant to be experienced by creation or us. The only way we have of truly dealing with it is to allow the Holy Spirit to reign in our emotions when advocating for animals:
- Allow the Spirit to give us joy as we worship him by how we live;
- Know that the joy of the Lord is a gift from God, it is defined by Godly standards and not those we find governing the world;
- Doing God’s will increases our sense of well-being and joy;
- Our circumstances or those in the world don’t dictate our emotions – the Holy Spirit defines them in and through us as we live by his power alone;
- True joy is a tool of spiritual warfare.
“Rejoicing always” means we are to remain steadfast in our knowledge that God is our strength and comfort. It seems imperative that we have joy in the face of all the suffering we see, for the “joy of the Lord is (truly) our strength”. He is our “ever present help when in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). The truth of God’s word says that joy is a line of defense and offense against the strongholds of Satan and his powers (Ephesians 6:10-20)!
Let us not forget, that “for the joy set before him, (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Therefore, we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith….. Consider(ing) him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths; do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7
Thank you for reading and following our blog! We welcome any comments; we pray you are blessed by what we feel the Lord puts on our hearts; and that will share it with others. ~Kathy