A listener to this podcast, Eric, writes in to ask, “Is joy in God and love for God the same thing? If not, how are they different?”
Before I answer how they are different, let me define what I mean by joy in God. And we had another question, I believe, on what that is: What is joy in God? So maybe I can kill two birds with one stone.
End of the Quest
In this context, I want us to think of joy not as a kind of emotional manifestation, because what I mean by joy can be manifest in weeping or leaping. Joy can be present very strongly in moments of greatest loss. I know that from experience, and I see it in the Bible. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). And it can be there in moments when we dance for joy, because something so wonderful has happened. So that is the first clarification: Joy in God is not identical with any one kind of emotional manifestation. It can be present in and under many kinds of emotional manifestations.
What I mean by joy — here’s my effort at a definition — is a deep, settled, emotionally satisfying yes, from the heart, to the supreme worth of God in all things. Let me say it again: Joy is a deep, settled (I almost wanted to say restful, and that would be okay), emotionally contented and emotionally restful and emotionally satisfying yes — just a deep yes from the heart to the supreme worth of God above all things in any circumstance.
When we see God for who he is, as supremely beautiful and therefore supremely valuable over all things, our heart says, “Yes, that is my soul’s end. That is my quest. My quest is over. My longings will all be satisfied here in him.” That is what I think joy in God is. Or to say it another way: joy in God is a deep, abiding, soul disposition to treasure God over all things — or cherish him more, esteem him, or prize him above all things.
Obedience Flows from Love
So I would say that this kind of joy in God is the essence, but not the totality, of what it means to love God. I am trying to get right at the answer to the question: What is the difference between joy in God and love for God? And I am saying that what I just defined as the joy of God is the essence, but not the sum or the totality, of what it means to love God.
Flowing out from that essence — like streams from a spring or growing up like shoots out of a root — are other emotions that are part of love to God, like thankfulness, desire, yieldedness and compliance to his ways and his will, expressions of adoration, and a comprehensive yes not only to his value but to his plan — the prospering of his plan for the universe. We look at the way God acts, and our love to God says yes to everything he is and does. So I am saying that the essence of love to God is joy in God, and this overarching yes to God’s value and his will, and that this essence gives rise to other things, like keeping the commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And some people say, “There, you see it: obedience is the same as loving God.” No, no, no. It says, “If you love me, then — as a consequence of that essence — you will do other things, like keep the commandments.” That is a branch. It is growing up out of the love of God. And it is okay, I think, to talk about obedience as a part of the love of God, provided you see the distinction in the if-then relationship.
So obedience to what God says is a branch that grows from the root of love, but I doubt that it would be wrong to say obedience is part of what it means to love God in the big, general sense. But I am real jealous never to equate commandment-keeping with the essence or the root of loving God.
From the Heart
Let me just mention one text. In Luke 10:27, when Jesus gave the great commandment, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and [you shall love] your neighbor as yourself.” Now here are two crucial things to notice.
Heart is mentioned first, then soul and strength and mind. It is first in all the references to this command. Now why would that be? I think the reason is because there is an essence of love that is a heartfelt treasuring, esteeming, delighting, resting, being satisfied in God, that yields expressions of that love through our strength and through our mind and so on.
And here is the second thing to notice, and you can’t see it in English. But I am going to say it, and you can test it out whatever way you can. In Luke 10:27, when it says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,” the preposition for “with” there translates the Greek ex, “from,” and when it says “and with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind,” all three of those prepositions are en. They are different.
Now why would that be? Why would there be a unique preposition with “from the heart,” and another preposition with soul, strength and body — a preposition that means “by,” like agency — “with” in the sense that this is the instrument or the tool. And I think it is because the essence of love is rooted in the heart — the heart’s affections for God — and then that love is expressed with instruments of soul, strength, and mind.
So my answer to Eric’s question is that love for God is not identical with joy in God, but that it is never less than joy in God. And joy in God — treasuring God, and prizing God, esteeming, cherishing, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ — that is the essence of love for God, and all the streams flow out from that.