The Joy of God

November 16, 2007 | 21 comments
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In Moses 7, Enoch sees God weep because of the wickedness and suffering of his children. When does God’s weeping end?

I frequently wonder if our happiness (I consider myself to be very happy and recognize my charmed life — hurray for running water and vaccinations that spare ours and our children’s lives!) is due solely to our incomprehension of others’ suffering. How happy could I be if my spouse or daughter were in great pain? I couldn’t spend a pleasant day skiing with my kids if I knew my grandparents were at that moment being robbed and beaten. Because there is always someone somewhere being robbed and beaten (or otherwise experiencing severe trauma), my day skiing with my kids is pleasant only because I don’t love and don’t know.

Given that God loves perfectly and sees and knows all, when would his weeping end and joy begin?

21 Responses to The Joy of God

  1. greenfrog on November 16, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    How happy could I be if my spouse or daughter were in great pain? I couldn’t spend a pleasant day skiing with my kids if I knew my grandparents were at that moment being robbed and beaten. Because there is always someone somewhere being robbed and beaten (or otherwise experiencing severe trauma), my ski day with my kids is pleasant only because I don’t love and don’t know.

    Wonderful insight, Matt. Thanks for sharing it.

    I wonder if the answer to your question may depend upon a recognition that even in our own suffering, we can still find joy in others’ happiness.

  2. Adam Greenwood on November 16, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I would imagine that God’s joy and his sorrow never end. Unlike us, I think our Father can experience perfect joy for everything good and perfect sorrow for everything wasteful all at the same time. And I think he experiences joy and sorrow and wrath and forgiveness and every other proper feeling not just for what’s happening right now, but for everything, everywhere, everywhen. Compared to him we are less than the dust.

  3. Ray on November 16, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Amen to the first two comments. I only will add that this puts our understanding of eternity and eternal progression in a radically different light than that of the rest of Christianity – or any other religion of which I am aware. Along with eternal, unfathomable joy, we believe we are destined to experience eternal, unfathomable sorrow. The Gospel really is marvelous and wonderful – in the fullest meanings of the words.

  4. Keith on November 16, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Over the individual, I suppose it might be “when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days . . . He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53).

    I’m not certain, however, how to answer the larger question. I do note that in the same occasion when Enoch sees the Lord weeping, Enoch also starts to feel extreme sorrow and refuses to be comforted. But the Lord doesn’t let him stay that way and commands him to lift up his heart and be glad. Enoch is then shown more problems yet to come, but also the coming of the Son of Man, his crucifixion and his triumph over death and hell. (This last bit would seem to be key to any answer to your question). Then lastly Enoch is shown the end times and the triumph of Zion. Clearly God weeps over sin and our mistreatment of others whenever such things happen. But he has conquered them and offered us a way out. He weeps again when we won’t accept that Way. So however we conceive of his suffering over our sins against each other, I think it must be seen along with the fact of his having perfect joy, holiness, love, and happiness.

    (It also brings up what (to my mind) are impossible question to answer right now about what it means when the scriptures talk about knowing all things, knowing the end from the beginning, or what God’s relation to time is (his time and ours, if they are different). So even the “when” of the sorrow in the first place is hard to know.)

  5. Dan S. on November 16, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    I believe that Heavenly Father obtains more joy from a good act that a child performs than he obtains sorrow from a bad act. To put this in mathematical terms, Joy(Good Act) > Sorrow(Bad Act). I liken this to a parent who has two children, and loses one child to the evils of the world. The parent sorrows for the loss of the child and the child’s bad acts. But the sorrow gives greater perspective to the goodness that other child performs. The contrast greatly enhances the joy and appreciation that the parent feels for the goodness. Plus, the parent also obtains joy from his or her own good acts. (Joy(Childrens’ Good Acts) + Joy(Parent’s Good Acts) >> Sorrow(Childrens’ Bad Acts)). Otherwise, I think the sorrow would overwhelm our Heavenly Father.

    #2 – I hear what you are saying. I suppose someone can feel both joy and sorrow by vacillating between the two feelings. However, I don’t understand how a person could feel both joy and sorrow at the same time. Maybe I’m thinking too linearly, but I tend to think that Heavenly Father has a balance of joy and sometimes feels sorrow.

  6. Keith on November 16, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    #4 — I left a sentence out in my second paragraph. Sorry.

    It should read: He weeps again when we won’t accept that Way. But that way will be offered to all (and only a few will reject it completely) and the way (which is, among other things, way of happiness) will remain and end triumphant. So however we conceive of God’s suffering over our sins against each other, I think it must be seen along with the fact of his having perfect joy, holiness, love, and happiness.

  7. Andrew A on November 16, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7.)

  8. anon+ on November 16, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve recently had an experience that has made me aware of my own mortality. That has been a deeply spiritual experience. I have never felt closer to my Father in Heaven nor to my family. I’ve never felt closer to strangers nor more humbled by the gifts I’ve been given. But also I’ve never felt more fear that I may soon not be with those I love. I’ve never wondered as I do now at the transience of our lives and the insignificance of most of what I have done. I’ve never before wondered whether there really is immortality nor so much hoped and trusted that there is.

    However, I cannot tell whether this is an experience of suffering or one of joy because it is so much of both. It is something other than either as they have occurred in my ordinary life. I imagine that this new emotion–is it joy?–is a taste of the celestial life, bitter and sweet at exactly the same time and in equal portions. To be cherished because it is such a fulness of life, bitter-sweet life, which is the only life really possible.

  9. Adam Greenwood on November 16, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I suppose someone can feel both joy and sorrow by vacillating between the two feelings.

    In my view that’s a mortal solution to a mortal dilemma. I don’t think God is limited that way. His life is more abundant.

  10. Kitschy on November 16, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    I learned from my 3 year olds T-shirt that she makes God smile just by being her. She certainly makes me smile that way.

  11. Ray on November 16, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    I have felt both sorrow and joy simultaneously. I’m sure God can do so.

    I happen to see joy and sorrow as opposite expressions of the same emotion – and God as the possessor of all complete emotions. Therefore, I don’t think God will ever stop feeling sorrow, since I am convinced He will never stop feeling joy.

  12. Dan S. on November 16, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    #9 – I agree that Heavenly Father has a more abundant life. I think you are saying that a more abundant life equates to feeling emotions that are beyond typical human emotions, such as split emotions (e.g., feeling sorrow in one part of his being while simultaneously feeling joy in another part of his being), or complex-compound emotions, (e.g., feeling a single feeling of joy mixed with sorrow). However, couldn’t living a more abundant life also mean simply experiencing a magnification of distinct human emotions? It makes more sense to me that way. Also, it makes me feel like I somehow relate to Heavenly Father when I think that his emotions are similar to mine, and not somehow beyond my human capacity to feel. The scriptures seem to portray Heavenly Father as a being with typical human emotions. Also, Jesus, in his perfect resurrected form, seems to experience typical human emotions during his visit to the Nephites (e.g., weeping with joy, joy being full, groaning in sorrow, etc.).

    Although, I admit, I won’t be disappointed if it turns out that emotions are much more complex when we have resurrected and/or celestial bodies. That could make the Millennium or the Celestial Kingdom a very different experience than what I am currently envisioning.

  13. Jacob M on November 16, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    5 – ask a parent how they feel when their child moves to a distant location, and it will involve joy and sorrow. Definitely not the same type of joy and sorrow talked about here, but definitely two differing emotions at the same time.

  14. Dan S. on November 16, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    #11, 13 – Is there really a single “joy/sorrow” feeling, or is it a mixture of competing emotions as we think about different things? I think about the times when I’ve felt a joy mixed with sorrow, but I was vacillating between feelings by thinking about the joyous thing and the sorrowful thing in my mind, conflicted as to which emotion was going to win out in the end. In the end, for me, one emotion tends to overpower or outweigh the other, or one tends to fade more quickly than the other.

    On the other hand, some scriptures describe Christ as being filled with two opposing attributes, justice and mercy, which implies a need for him to feel two conflicting emotions, so that he can judge us perfectly. However, does that mean he has to always be feeling conflicting emotions at the same time? The emotions would either be (1) constantly in conflict so as to create a never-ending state of mental conflict (like a sinusoidal wave of emotions) or (2) in complete equilibrium (like counter balancing vectors). To me, this portrays either a very erratic sense of emotions or a very boring sense of emotions.

  15. Jared on November 16, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Trying to comprehend Godliness in our present state isn’t a useless effort, but even with all that’s been revealed we just don’t come away from such exercises feeling like we’re close to the answer.

    Consider the following description of God:

    has all power
    knoweth all things
    like devouring fire
    past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord
    descended below all things
    created all things
    comprehendeth all things
    God is perfect
    God is love
    Father of our spirits
    mankind is his work and glory
    comprehended all things
    eventually He will give to the faithful “all that He hath.”

    Wow!

  16. Keva on November 16, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Eastern religions believe that all people suffer, yet by detaching from the emotions that suffering brings, one can have greater compassion for those that suffer. I believe that God has limitless compassion for us. He understands why we suffer, yet He knows that we each have a divine seed that will allow us to rise above wordly suffering and become like Him. True compassion is not sympathy, it is empathy.

    In our limited view, it can be easy to forget this. But I believe He always has hope. And when he sees even a small step towards this “goal”, it must bring great joy.

  17. Ray on November 16, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    #14 – “does that mean he has to always be feeling conflicting emotions at the same time?”

    Of course not.

  18. Adam Greenwood on November 17, 2007 at 12:05 am

    agree that Heavenly Father has a more abundant life. I think you are saying that a more abundant life equates to feeling emotions that are beyond typical human emotions, such as split emotions (e.g., feeling sorrow in one part of his being while simultaneously feeling joy in another part of his being), or complex-compound emotions, (e.g., feeling a single feeling of joy mixed with sorrow). However, couldn’t living a more abundant life also mean simply experiencing a magnification of distinct human emotions? It makes more sense to me that way.

    You understand me well. And I understand you. Obviously we have no real way of knowing, short of asking God.

    My reasons for speculating the way I do are as follows:
    —if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I can’t see him having emotional swings.
    —As Matt E. points out, good and evil that God cares about are happening simultaneously all the time. I don’t want to say that God can rejoice because I’m repenting or sorrow because someone else is sinning but not both. I think he has to be able to do both if he’s to be God to both of us.
    —None of us wants to trade away or forget our experiences. They mean too much, and this includes the sad and the bitter ones. I want to think that God ‘has all things before his face’ and this means that even the past is real and immediate to him, because it means that someday I too may be able to have my old selves and my old friends and my old places and my old times and my old sorrows and joys back again, and I don’t see how unless we can eventually learn to take everything in at once.

  19. Jeremy on November 17, 2007 at 1:14 am

    No discussion of this topic should continue for very long without reference to Eugene England’s magnificent and moving essay, “The Weeping God of Mormonism.”

    Enoch, the one who sees God weeping and marvels at it, finally is shown a grand vision made up of extremes–joy and sorrow. The result is that his heart eventually “swells as wide as eternity.” Not because the good outweighs the bad, but because (as I interpret it) the sheer volume of both, and their coexistence, is so overwhelming.

  20. meems on November 17, 2007 at 6:05 am

    I can’t enjoy anything unless everybody is. You know, if one guy is starving someplace, that’s … you know, it puts a crimp in my evening.

    – Annie Hall

    I often think about the suffering in this world, and feel bad that I don’t have the emotional connection, empathy and compassion for my far-flung brothers and sisters that would make me more miserable! ;-) With HF’s omniscience and love for all the children on this earth, how could he not be somewhat sad most of the time? I feel so bad when I make wrong choices because it’s just another cause for sorrow to my Father in Heaven.

  21. Rand on November 19, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    God weeps because of our sins. He is not particularly concerned with our pains and sufferings. These carry vital lesssons within them that God is fully willing to allow us to suffer in order to learn. Suffering without a vital lesson does not occur. That is why we have been commanded to give thanks to God in all things.