Senior writer, desiringGod.org
Fear is part of living in this finite, fragile flesh in this fallen and fearful world. We are haunted people. We are fearing people, and our fears don’t end in childhood. It may begin with monsters under our beds, but more disturbing monsters lurk in the shadows as we grow older.
“God orchestrated millions of situations and circumstances and relationships to bring us where we are today.”
We fear athletic and academic failure. We fear star-crossed love or, worse, no love at all. We fear being alone. We fear not getting a good job, or losing our job. We fear losing the health of our children, or losing their affection. We fear that our bills will outgrow our income. We fear job loss, economic collapse, financial strain, and even poverty. As we age, we fear losing our retirement fund, our homes, our minds. Some of our darkest fears can be hedged with insurance, but no insurance can erase all the fears we entertain. We are more anxious and insecure than we’re willing to admit.
All the fears of life set up a beautiful contrast to the security of God’s elect. Once God sweeps you into his sovereign security net, it can relieve all fears that some circumstance will befall your life and bring your hope, happiness, and safety to an abrupt end. It assures you of joys, now in part, that will grow only more enthralling as they expand into the limitless stretches of God.
In the context of God’s salvation, Scripture delivers a whopping promise:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? (Romans 8:31–33)
In one glorious passage, we find full proof that God will never let his children fall under condemnation or judgment in Christ. It will never happen, because he gave Christ in the first place. And if God gave up his precious, chosen Son, why would he not provide us, his children, with everything else we need to flourish eternally? He won’t hold back. That’s the point. “All things” means “all things.” His heart doesn’t stutter. Everything we need to flourish forever is promised by a gracious heavenly Father eager to bless us lavishly for our joy and for his glory. For his beloved children, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is corroborating evidence to prove that God will stop at nothing to ensure our eternal joy (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 19:777–78).
Because God gave his only Son for you, he has given you his guarantee that he will weave the details of your life together in such a way as to lead to an eternity with him to enjoy his full pleasures forevermore. To be chosen in Christ is to have the script for your life written, and the end of the story is eternal flourishing.
Suffering, Sorrow, and Joy
Of course, the script includes conflict and hardships. We don’t find joy by escaping this life, but by living through it. I don’t know how much pain and disappointment you will face, but you will face it. You may face a long season of darkness in depression. You may live with serious regrets, and those regrets come in many shapes and sizes. Maybe you never intended to be forty and single. Maybe you regret being forty and married. Maybe you regret having kids. Or maybe you regret remaining childless. Or maybe you regret that your child abandoned the faith.
Whatever the pains or regrets of life, the happy Calvinist, whose theology has sunk deep into the nerve center of his life, can say, “Though I cannot see why my life has unfolded in the way it has, God is in control and I am upheld by grace.” This confidence liberates our hearts to enjoy life. We don’t live in self-hate over all our failures. Instead, we look back over our lives, knowing that God orchestrated millions of situations and circumstances and relationships to bring us where we are today.
“We don’t find joy by escaping this life, but by living through it.”
The apostle Paul, who endured just about every kind of letdown, heartbreak, and suffering imaginable, also acknowledged that his pain was part of God’s ultimate plan (2 Corinthians 6:3–10). The sorrow he felt was real, and it hurt, but it also proved that the joy of God was inextinguishable. “Our joy no man takes from us,” Spurgeon once said. “We are singing pilgrims, though the way be rough. Amid the ashes of our pains live the sparks of our joys, ready to flame up when the breath of the Spirit sweetly blows. Our latent happiness is a choicer heritage than the sinner’s riotous glee” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, 28:187).
The joy of God in the life of his children is a precious gift, sometimes concealed, but never extinguished by sorrow, conflict, or human circumstances.
Anticipating unending joy in the presence of Christ changes everything. It means we can relinquish control over our lives. It means we have no fear of the future. It means all our pressing toward personal holiness is not in vain. God elects so that we will be conformed to the image of Christ, in his holiness and in his happiness. It will be done, and we strive and obey in this inescapable hope.
First Peter 1:3–9 teaches us a key lesson about longing and participating. We are not merely left in a subway tube, fiddling on our phones and waiting idly for a tardy train to eventually pick us up and take us to heaven. The Joy Project — my phrase for the story of Calvinism — leads us toward the presence of God, but Christ now offers us tastes of eternal joy that defies words.
The Joy Project
True happiness is not found. The deepest and most enduring happiness breaks into our lives, overcomes our boredom, and ultimately finds us.
As Puritan John Owen writes, the physical joys of this life cannot be compared to these precious glimpses of the beatific vision, by faith. “There is no glory, no peace, no joy, no satisfaction in this world, to be compared with what we receive by that weak and imperfect view which we have of the glory of Christ by faith. All the joys of the world are nothing in comparison to what we receive” (Works of John Owen, 1:415). These “views” are hints of the full beatific vision to come. But Owen is careful to reiterate these moments are not the everyday state of the Christian life on earth. “There enters sometimes, by the word and Spirit, into our hearts such a sense of the uncreated glory of God, shining forth in Christ, as affects and satiates our souls with ineffable joy” (Works, 1:293). These are exquisite moments, but they are infrequent.
Our anticipation for an eternal feast of joy becomes a present taste of delight (Romans 5:2). In Christ, we now taste the firstfruits of eternal joy. “As before the sun rises, there are some forerunning beams and streaks of light that usher it in; so the joys of the Holy Spirit are but the morning glances of the daylight of glory, and of the sun of happiness that shall arise upon us in another world” (Manton, Works, 13:331).
For now, we gratefully taste present happiness (periodic joy, by faith) while we eagerly await future happiness (endless joy, by sight). One day this appetizer of spiritual pleasure will give way to the full banquet feast of flooding joys and delights God intends to share with us. This is the climactic finale of God’s joy project, the end toward which everything is unfailingly headed.
God is pushing all things forward toward a glorious future. No longer will his children live in the past, as strangers and aliens; they will arrive in the home country to which they have been traveling, to dwell in the presence of God, to live with all the redeemed before the Lamb, clothed in perfect Christlike purity — no spot, no stain, no wrinkle. The Savior will rejoice in receiving us, the ones he’s loved from before time; the ones for whom he endured, with joy set before him, the shame of the cross. We will be welcomed into the full enjoyment of his love, and it will usher in a joy that will never end or fade. This is what we anticipate.
“God is pushing all things forward toward a glorious future.”
If we doubt, we look back on the blood of Christ as proof. In the future Christ will feed us abundantly with delights, and he will take us and present us before the Father, who elected us. We will behold God’s glory and taste the sweetness of eternal pleasures that we have always desired. All of our sinful longings will finally vanish. All our idols, our pride and despair, our false hopes and securities, our corrupting sins — all these burdens will be burned up like straw in a bonfire. Tears and regret and death will be gone; suffering will be burnt to ash. We will be finally and fully free to enjoy the pleasures of God together.
If you love Christ, hold this promise with firm resolve. You are beloved. God’s choice of you is a divine insurance policy of joy, underwritten by Christ’s blood, unshaken by the trials and pains of life, ensuring your claim on joys forevermore (Romans 8:28). Fear not. Only believe that nothing will ultimately get in the way of your perseverance in Christ.