by Matthew A. Rich
Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Ore. 126 pages
This book on joy is probably not what you expect. It is not a compendium of cloy reminders to count your blessings nor is it a command merely to rejoice in all things. In fact, although this book does not set forth to even define “joy,” through Scripture, personal stories, and theological exploration, Rich cleverly shows that joy often shows up in places where it is least likely expected.
Thankfully, this book balances Scriptural reliance and personal anecdotes. In the end, our joy rests on the knowledge that the tomb stands empty. Although darkness and suffering are very real in our day-to-day lives, they cannot withstand the power of the resurrection. And, as Rich reminds his readers, in the days following the crucifixion “no one in the story anticipates resurrection.”
Joy is often surprising and found in the most ordinary moments. This book’s unusual title bears witness to the fact that none of us know what our future days hold. A week from next Tuesday in your life could hold ordinary activities and meetings. Or, it could be the doctor’s appointment or phone call that changes your life. Whether mundane or unexpected, the future does not rest in our hands, and that may prove unsettling or even downright scary.
To this end, Rich’s book emphasizes the important knowledge we do have: as believers, we stand at the intersection of memory and hope. In moments when we do not see Christ, we might still know joy because of our knowledge of God’s actions and our trust in Jesus’ promise from the book of Revelation that “Surely, I am coming soon.” Moreso, the practices that define our Christian faith remind us of joy, even when we cannot experience tangible happiness. For example, Rich lifts up the Eucharist, the “joyful feast of the people of God,” as an opportunity to meet Christ and know joy through that encounter.
While challenging readers’ experience of joy through practices of perception, gratitude and even humor, Rich also digs deeper to reframe joy through Scriptural promises. Too often, joy is sought in circumstances and happenings, but Rich stresses that would be to confuse joy with happiness. Instead, joy exists — even in the midst of darkness and troubling times — because of Christ’s promise, “Surely, I am coming soon.”
The desire to better understand joy is an ongoing, personal one for the author. Rich, who has served as a pastor in PC(USA) congregations for over a decade, wrote his doctoral thesis on Christian joy and has a curiosity in exploring how spiritual disciplines influence experience of joy.
The depth given to this topic makes it an excellent resource for study and discussion. Each of the book’s eight chapters ends with a set of questions that expand on the content of the chapter and provide guidance to readers — or ideally, a small-group Bible study — to examine their own lives and encounters with joy.
JANA BLAZEK is a teaching elder living in Chicago. She is associate editor of the Presbyterian Outlook and Call to Worship.