The Irony of Joyless Christianity
Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” has sort of become a pop-culture punch line at this point. The irony isn’t lost on this track as, despite its title, there’s almost no irony to be found in it’s lyrics. Some have delved much too deep into the meaning of this song, but their efforts at philosophizing a shallow ‘90s song have proved unfruitful in the endeavor to find some semblance of irony. Nevertheless, I have stumbled across some real irony recently. The type of irony that’s both depressing and devastating. In fact, this strand of irony is approaching epidemic-like levels amongst Christendom. It’s pervasive and dangerous, like an infectious disease.
I’m referring, of course, to the irony found in those Christians who are almost perpetually sullen and morose. Some “born again” believers have grown so cold and disillusioned with the world around them that they personify Grumpy from Disney’s Snow White or Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino, with a prickly “Get off my lawn!” face perpetually showing.
One of my first jobs was working at a Panera Bread in Taylors, South Carolina. And one of the caveats of the position was occasionally working a shift on Sunday mornings. I can’t tell you the number of times the Sunday patrons, who were clearly coming from some form of church worship, would come in and cause a stir with their unaccommodating and demanding sense of self-righteousness and self-importance as they placed their order(s). As a Christian, it pained me to see other believers lose their cool and become burdensome customers that would soon be the butt of the joke later. Seeing those Christians act like that in such a public way has always bothered me. What’s ironic is that Christ-followers are oftentimes notoriously unhappy. That’s a true paradox. It doesn’t make any sense. For many Christians, familiarity hasn’t only bred contempt, but disgust, disrespect, and general incivility.
I think this attitude stems from a general lack of remembrance of God’s Word. We often forget or take for granted just how blessed and privileged we are to be the children of God, “his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Ps. 100:4) We often remember some things, like wrongs people have committed against us, but we tend to forget those things that the Lord has done for us. We’re prone to taking for granted all the tender mercies of our Heavenly Father. We have a long memory when it comes to our hurts and sorrows and burdens, but a very short memory when it comes to counting the multitude of blessings God has graced us with. Sometimes, the soul forgets just how good God has been and continues to be to us.
This malaise of joyless Christianity stems from believers forgetting the gospel. Or at the very least they don’t consciously consider its far-reaching ramifications — how else can you account for the cantankerous Christians in your circle of friends? I think we fail to fully realize that we are God’s people. We’re a part of his Kingdom, adopted into his heavenly family. I think we haven’t completely contemplated all the vast consequences of the fact that “he made us, and we are his.” (Ps. 100:4) The throes of life have clouded our joy; our busyness has taken away from our gladness. And the irony is, the believer in Christ should be of all people most joyful.
If that’s you — if you’ve forgotten what you have to rejoice in — I invite you to read Psalm 100 for a quick refresher.
Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his — his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. For the Lord is good, and his faithful love endures forever; his faithfulness, through all generations. (Ps. 100:1–5)
Just look at all the happy words the psalmist employs: “triumphantly,” “gladness,” “joyful,” “thanksgiving,” “praise,” “thanks.” It’s no secret: those who are the Lord’s have an abundance of blessings to rejoice in!
We are forgiven when we sin. (Micah 7:18–19) We’re redeemed from bondage and crowned as “heirs with Christ!” (Rom. 8:17) We are the Lord’s sheep, the lost sheep he’s come to save. (Ezek. 16:11–12) We are now adopted sons and daughters of the King of Glory. (2 Cor. 6:18) We now have access to the holiest of all by the mercy of the Son. (Heb. 4:14–16) We can “serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2) because we have the assurance that it’s not our works that are getting us in or keeping us in the bright rays of the Father’s delight. That’s been secured already by the Son and sealed by the Spirit. We stand in the sun — in the Son! — and sing in chorus “joyful songs.” We “give thanks to him and bless his name” (Ps. 100:4) because it’s not our performances that pay our enormous debt. That price has been paid in full by the blood of God, by the crucified Savior, in our stead.
Jesus’s crucifixion purchased for you an unparalleled pardon that fully encompasses and envelopes the darkest of iniquities. He unloads every burdensome word, deed, thought, and action, and puts them away forever. (Isa. 38:17; 43:25) The sins of our past, present, and future are paid for, without hesitation or reservation on the part of the Savior. (Ps. 103:12; 1 John 1:7–9) Through God’s blood, the sinner is made clean. And despite our continued failing, the Father’s forgiveness never relents. It keeps giving and giving. “His faithful love endures forever.” (Ps. 100:5)
Through it all, the Lord is good and loving and gracious, forever. His love knows no bounds and his mercy no end. Each day is a new manifestation of the Father’s grace, in which we’re given new glimpses into his faithful character. (Ps. 100:5) God takes fallen men and women and transforms them into fruitful instruments of his Kingdom. By his “faithful love,” we’re made to be faithful. And it’s only by a continual repose on “his faithfulness” that we’re made to find joy amidst the travails of this present life. The more we train our minds to acknowledge God’s enduring goodness (Ps. 100:5), the more we’ll shout triumphantly in our worship of him. (Ps. 100:1–2)
Hallelujah is the voice ascending from each ransomed lip. (Bonar, 238–39)
Our cheerfulness is a credit to the Redeemer. Our demeanor should reflect our deliverance. And we’ve been rescued from slavery, sin, and the very clutches of hell itself! “Give thanks to him and bless his name!” Whatever season of life you’re in, rest in your Savior’s “faithful love” — the love that will buoy you during the severest of waves. The love that will settle you in the midst of the harshest chaos. Don’t succumb to the dread irony of familiar faith and contemptible Christianity. Remember the cross, that place of both joy and sorrow, celebration and mourning, life and death. Let your thoughts run to Golgotha, that place where sadness was short but victory is forever. Remember what Jesus has done and then you too will be glad.
- Horatius Bonar, The Eternal Day (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1854).