God Is the Joy of My Joy
There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!
Psalm 43 begins with a cry for divine justice: "Declare me innocent, O God!" (v. 1). The psalmist is being falsely accused by "ungodly people" who oppress him and discourage him (vv. 1, 5). He fears that God has tossed him aside (v. 2). He wonders why he must "wander around in grief" because of how his enemies are treating him (v. 2).
In his perplexity and sadness, the psalmist calls out for God to send his "light" and "truth" (v. 3). These will lead him to God's "holy mountain," to the place where God lives (v. 3). Anticipating his arrival at the temple, the psalmist writes, "There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God" (v. 4).
Where our translation (NLT) uses "the source of all my joy," other versions prefer "my joy and my delight" (NIV), or "my exceeding joy" (ESV, NRSV). The original Hebrew of this verse employs an idiom that might be translated literally, I will go to "the God of the joy of my joy" (’el-’el simchat gili). The doubling up of the joy, using two Hebrew words that are similar in meaning, emphasizes the joy felt by the psalmist as he comes into God's presence. Yes, God is the source of his joy, but not just ordinary joy. The joy he feels before God is exceptional, expansive, and intense. It is joy that the psalm writer can begin to feel even when he is still in the midst of suffering and doubt.
Psalm 43 reminds me of a passage in the first chapter of 1 Peter in the New Testament. There, Peter acknowledges that the recipients of his letter have been enduring many trials because of their faith. Yet, as they trust the Lord, they "rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy" (1 Pet. 1:8). The Bible does not downplay the reality of suffering. Nor does it suggest that suffering is not horrible or that we should not cry out to God in our pain. Quite the contrary! But Scripture, including Psalm 43, also encourages us to seek the Lord, to draw near to him, and to trust him. God alone is the source of abiding joy, the "joy of our joy."
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced God as the source of your joy? When? How is the joy of the Lord like and unlike other joys?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for being the source of my joy. Thank you for helping me to rejoice, even in hard times, even when I am uncertain, even when my circumstances don't seem to merit any joy at all.
Today, I want to pray for people who are suffering, those who wonder if you have tossed them aside. O Lord, meet them in their pain. Carry their yoke. Give them hope. Be their joy, the joy of their joy, today. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.