I apologize for the title image, but jokes involving Thomas the Tank Engine and actual brooks are practically obligatory when talking about Thomas Brooks.
And now for something completely different: A review of a movie review.
Pixar’s Inside Out was a massive success apparently. All well and good. I proceed after this disclaimer: I have not yet viewed it, nor do I intend to anytime soon, as I have somewhat adopted Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s view of “theatre going” to my movie watching habits. But Desiring God did what I thought was a decent post on the movie (assuming, of course, that it accurately portrayed the movie). I wanted to expand a little bit on it.
What I believe to be the crux of the Desiring God post was this:
The hallmark of Inside Out is the grounding of happiness. In a society that seeks joy in comfort, silliness, and diversion, Pixar presents a different picture of the full life. Being happy is not about eliminating or even minimizing emotions not named Joy. No one in history has ever succeeded with that approach. Inside Out refreshingly declares that the good life — at least the one that really happens on this planet — is not free from sadness or anger, but allows joy to live in a harmony with those other less comfortable emotions.
All well and good. And they follow this later in the article with:
Inside Out grounds joy — which in and of itself sets it apart from so many other movies — but still leaves it rootless. The joy is real, and even mature, but it’s not safe or reliable. It’s not made or even expected to last the stormy waves that will crash into our lives. When one island of personality falls — whether silliness or hockey or friendship — we’ll start building another.
Pixar beautifully illustrates the problem, but doesn’t present a satisfying solution. I’m not sure it can. Think about it: The savior in Inside Out is an imaginary elephant friend named Bing Bong.
As a secular movie written largely by unregenerate people whose joy is not in God, we can expect no more. But I want to address a view that might arise from the post (which I did quite enjoy): the assumption that all joy experienced on earth is accompanied by sadness and other “less comfortable” emotions. Thomas Brooks has a very different assumption in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices:
If our lights be spiritual, clear and quick, we may see in the felicity of this world our wine mixed with water, our honey with gall, our sugar with wormwood, and our roses with prickles. Sorrow attends worldly joy, danger attends worldly safety, loss attends worldly labours, tears attend worldly purposes. As to these things, men’s hopes are vain, their sorrows certain and joy feigned. The apostle calls this world a “sea of glass,” a sea for the trouble of it, and glass for the brittleness and bitterness of it. The honours, profits, pleasures and delights of the world are true gardens of Adonis, where we can gather nothing but trivial flowers, surrounded with many briars.
By which I hope you see the underlying assumption that the heavenly joy, real, pure, unadulterated joy, without hint of sorrow and sadness, can actually be experienced on this earth. If you do not see it in this quote, reading the book would make it clearer. It is not an uncommon assumption—the crux of John Owen’s Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ is that we are purified, sanctified, edified, even originally justified, only by getting a tiny sample of that view of Christ that we will have when we are in heaven with Him as His bride. Edwards alludes to this same principle in his famous sermon “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” The clearest Scripture to explain this concept is 1 John 3:2-3:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
A view of Christ—now by faith but later by sight—is the basis of all parts of our salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. And following this heavenly view of Christ is an accompanying taste of true heavenly joy, joy communicated by Christ to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit, unmixed with sadness or sorrow, because it is joy in the unchanging person of God Himself. See what might be one of the simplest summaries of Christianity, 1 Peter 1:8:
and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
Ineffable joy full of glory is not a joy that is mixed with sorrow, nor even accompanied by sorrow or sadness or anger or fear or disgust. Or see Brooks again:
True happiness is too big and too glorious a thing to be found in anything below that God that is a Christian’s summum bonum, chiefest good.
And since God is pure, unchanging, beautiful, and glorious, we cannot say that the joy coming from Him is in any way adulterated or tempered with other emotions. Not, of course, to lead us to believe that Christians experience no pain or sorrow in this earth. That assumption would be utterly absurd and oblivious to the entirety of human experience.
Marshall Segal in that Desiring God post describes this heavenly joy:
The hope for Christians, though, is that there is even better news than real-life, down-to-earth, grounded-with-grief joy in this world. The joy Riley experienced before her family’s move — a child-like, uninhibited, uncontaminated happiness — is not so far off from the hope of heaven. The full and forever happiness we will have with God in his presence will not be ruined by sadness or distress or disgust, but enriched by them. One day, God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4) — no fear, no sadness — and amazingly we will be eternally better for having cried.
I believe he would agree with my point in this post: that we experience, to a far lesser extent, this same joy on earth, but it does not yet come with victory over sadness or frustration. I wish only to address that:
- Any joy that is by its own nature mixed with other emotions is worldly, a common gift from God, not a gift of His special grace. Heavenly joy is separated from our other emotions.
- We have here on earth a taste of heavenly joy, for which we should be grateful, and which we should work with our greatest endeavors to enlarge and experience more fully, for in doing so we must better see and glorify Jesus Christ.
I fear we spend far too much time pursuing worldly counterfeit joy and not the true joy in God. I wish it were otherwise, both in my own life, and in yours, because God has so much better for us. Quoting Brooks again:
Tell me, you who say that all things under the sun are vanity, if you do really believe what you say, why do you spend more thoughts and time on the world, than on Christ, heaven, and your immortal souls?
I think that gives us the key to pursuing our fullest joy on earth. Let us take it to heart.
I leave this as a concluding note: Thank God Piper’s Desiring God and his principles of where our chiefest joy is found are by no means original! Thank God that His people have (as evidenced by the three puritans I mentioned and many others throughout history) have always believed those truths! Because otherwise, they’d probably be heresies. Which would be unfortunate. Frankly, the copious writings of past generations probably treat these details more deeply and more clearly than those of ours, and thus should be read and studied.