Volume 30 - Issue 3

Joy, the Gigantic Secret

By Robbie F. Castleman

There are a few people that I really want to have a chat with in the Kingdom, when it comes. I would really like to talk to Mary and finally get to hear what it was like to raise a sinless toddler and teenager. If the ‘Inklings’ have a get-together, I would love to just listen in and share the richness of such imaginative fellowship. Since my doctoral work focused on the development of a new pedagogical approach to trinitarian theology, I want to meet Athanasius, all three Cappadocians, Augustine, the Torrance clan and Karl Barth. I don’t think autographs would be appropriate to the Kingdom, but I would like to meet them and say, ‘Thanks’! I would like to finally get John Calvin and Ignatius Loyola together and introduce them. (These two were at the University of Paris at the same time and I have always wondered if the church could have reunited in reformation if they had met and become friends over coffee.) It might be ‘out of bounds’ for the ethos of the Kingdom, but I’d really like to settle the mystery of Nathaniel’s fig tree, what it was that Jesus wrote in the dirt, and who wrote Hebrews. (I really hope the latter is Priscilla and she has a book signing!) If all this visiting is allowed, there is one person I know I will find by the sound of laughter coming from his corner: G.K. Chesterton.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton will be naturally at home in the perfected joy of the Kingdom because he was intentional about joy in the world. He had a way of saying something serious without making it sound grave. Chesterton was a lot like the angels he once characterised as able to fly because they take themselves lightly. Chesterton gained the ear of a distracted age through undisguised mirth. In an unenlightened age that wasted its resources and expected both human progress and planetary improvement to be unending, Chesterton pointed out that ‘the trees and the planets seemed like things saved from the wreck: and when I saw the Matterhorn I was glad that it had not been overlooked in the confusion’. He maintained that ‘the proper form of thanks […] is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them’. Late to the faith that he found through the familiarity of fairy-tales, he tapped his toe to the rhythm of Christ, and longed to teach the church how to dance! In a broken-hearted world, Chesterton reminded God’s people that ‘Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagans, is the gigantic secret of the Christian’.

This ‘gigantic secret of the Christian’ needs to be let out of the bag today. Joy needs to break forth as a new rhythm of life in the middle of the mundane, in the mire of the world’s misery, and even in the midst of sinners! Now, this gigantic joy has nothing to do with the thin frivolity that attempts to make church fun or worship a storefront window to get the crowd in the door. This joy is gigantic because it refuses to domesticate transcendence. Gigantic joy is rooted in the fear of the Lord. Gigantic joy is not impervious to pain or inattentive to heartbreak. Gigantic joy doesn’t laugh in the middle of tsunami sorrow, broken promises or the irrevocable consequences of sinful rebellion. What gigantic joy does, is give the Christian a bottomless pool of hope that allows the Christian the energy and steadfastness to not grow weary in well doing. This kind of joy is the secret of being able to face sin and sorrow honestly and still end the day singing the doxology.

That’s the song the world needs to hear today. Maybe joy is still a gigantic secret because Christians reserve ‘the doxology’ for the part of a church service after the collection of tithes and offerings sometimes given begrudgingly for church bill-paying, with little thought of the God from whom all blessings flow. The self-sufficiency of managing our own happiness has muted the doxology of the church and the world just can’t hear it. Often what the world hears are sounds that are just the same as its own, so why listen?

At a funeral it’s the sound of children laughing and the sight of them, still able to play, that comforts the most broken-hearted mourner. Joy is why hope can smile. Doxology, the giving of glorious thanksgiving, joy’s best expression of gratitude is the most counter-cultural voice that must be heard in a world filled with a cacophony of complaint. What would happen today, this week, this semester, this year, this lifetime if Christians were truly grateful and said so? How would our family gatherings, board rooms, faculty meetings, shopping malls, parks, highways, neighbour-hoods, and mission fields be transformed by gratitude expressed with joy? How would the voice of the church be heard as a herald of the Kingdom’s coming if we remembered that it is a wedding feast? Would the world turn its head and begin to listen if Christians began to catch the rhythm of eternal shalom by dancing, singing, drinking, feasting and actually enjoying ourselves—even in public? Would the sinner, the sorrowful, the sojourner, the cynic, the bored-to-death, and the sick-of-life take notice of a joy so gigantic that it couldn’t fail to love them?

If we did, maybe they would catch the rhythm of the Kingdom and, in the middle of a hurting world, share our gigantic secret and join our first and final song.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Praise him all creatures here below!

Praise him above the heavenly host!

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

Robbie F. Castleman