Hunger for Joy

By Ortberg, John | The Christian Century, September 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

Hunger for Joy


Ortberg, John, The Christian Century


   All will be well,
   And all will be well,
   And all manner of things will be well.

--Julian of Norwich

WE READ, C. S. Lewis says in Shadowlands, to know that we are not alone. We read because we want to know if there is a reason to believe. Sometimes when we read, someone names a truth that resonates so deeply inside us that we find ourselves laughing or crying because we never knew there was a name for what we had hoped.

One of those passages, for me, comes at the end of G. K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy. It is a picture of God and the destiny of his creation that is so good we can hardly hope it will be true. It produces maybe a sliver of what happened to the disciples after the resurrection, when, we're told, "they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement" (Luke 24:41).

I believe because the hunger for joy will not go away. The hunger does not prove that joy (or God) exists. But it is suggestive. It would be an odd world if creatures had thirst but there was no such thing as water, or appetite but there was no such thing as food, or a craving to mate but there was no such thing as sex.

I believe because if what Jesus taught is true, then joy is at the core of the universe. If Jesus was wrong, if unbelief is right, then joy and the hunger for it are an accident. Then the earth is a ball of dirt and water floating for a few seconds in a cosmic chamber destined to perish when the Big Bang collapses in on itself. "What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million suns?" asked Tennyson.

If Jesus is right, joy was at the beginning, was challenged in the middle and will be restored at the end. If he was wrong, joy is a momentary illusion that was absent in the beginning and will soon be forever stilled.

I believe Jesus was right. I believe joy is as real as Cleveland.

Orthodoxy closes with a picture of Jesus and the hope of joy that still slays me when I read it--especially the last line, and the last word. But it requires a little context, so I'll try to set it up.

Imagine you had a five-year-old child whom you loved very much. Let us say this child had been sick; you were afraid you might lose her. Then the doctors told you she could have an operation. It is in fact a very simple one--like having her tonsils out. It would be without risk. She will live, they say. She'll be fine. Your joy knows no limits.

But your five-year-old child is scared to death. She is dreading the operation. She is frightened by the surgeon. She does not know that all will be well. You try to reassure her, but she doesn't understand. So you don't let her see the lightness of your heart. You can't joke around. …

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