#STRask: May 15, 2017

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Published on 05/15/2017

Greg’s on a timer and answers questions about biblical joy and Bible inspiration.


  • Is there a biblical difference between happiness and joy?
  • How do you talk to people about what it means for Scripture to be God-breathed?


Melinda: Hey there, hi there, ho there. This is Melinda the Enforcer and I’m here with the Greg Koukl and I made him laugh. Good, that was my...

Greg: That’s good, I wasn’t actually in a cheerful mood here and you caught me by surprise there. Now I’m...

Melinda: That’s my old timey radio announcer impersonation.

Greg: I’m doing a little better there with the hey there, hi there, ho there, good.

Melinda: I’m Melinda the Enforcer, Greg Koukl here. This is STR’s short podcast, #STRask. Greg’s on a timer, he has four minutes or less to answer your questions. We get your questions from Twitter.

Greg: You know people tell me I just have a quick question like at an event, they see me going out the door, just a quick question. Of course the questions are always quick it’s the answers that are the problem.

Melinda: Right and there are some question that just can’t be done in four minutes. Every once in a while we have one of those that comes in. I don’t offer it to you because it’s just not...

Greg: Too complex.

Melinda: Yeah it’s you don’t want to do more harm by doing short shrift to something that deserves more time, that really requires more time. There’s a lot of things you can at least give a thought or a perspective on in four minutes or less.

Greg: That’s part of my expectation in these things is not necessarily to give a thorough going answer that ties up all the loose ends but try to move people a little bit closer to an answer or to give them something to think about that will help them over time resolve the issue, just something to chew on, put a stone in their shoe.

Melinda: So here’s the first one, ready?

Greg: I like that stone in the shoe, maybe I’ll use that sometime.

Melinda: This comes from STgolf. Is there a biblical difference between happiness and joy?

Greg: Well you know a lot of people have made that distinction when they’re talking about those two issues. Characteristically happiness is offered as something circumstance based. Joy is something that you feel regardless of the circumstances. I don’t know, I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable with that distinction. I’m balking because I’ve thought about this issue, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control; it’s one of the fruits of the spirit. What exactly is that?

It does seem to be something that one has that transcends the circumstances because of a deeper reality and the deeper reality is one’s relationship with God. How that actually works is still a bit of a mystery to me. It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that’s just automatic. While there’s lots of bad things happening in my life it doesn’t matter because I have the joy of the Lord, it’s my strength. That is it doesn’t just come upon us in virtue of being Christians. When we’re assaulted by these other things to me it looks like something that has to be cultivated. That’s always part of the mystery of it because if it’s a fruit of the spirit then what is my role in cultivating the fruit of the spirit.

This is a question that I have even in my own life. There’s been lots of times when I’ve been going through very, very difficult things and I am trying in a sense to lean on the Lord so that the joy of the Lord is my strength because the moment hasn’t produced what might be called happiness for me. I haven’t known how to generate that. Even praying for it, these concepts I’m vague in my response because I’m vague in my own understanding of how these concepts work. I would consider myself a reasonably happy person even in the midst of general trials that I have because the specific things that I’m struggling with I realized are not the focus or central element of my life. I’d like to say the Lord is the central element of my life. The only way I guess I’d know that if that was really working out on my own experience is if all these other things that were meaningful to me were taken away and then I ask, okay, what’s the center? So far I’ve been able to suffer disappointments and hardships...

Melinda: Less than total destruction.

Greg: Not total destruction right because there’s so many other things that are really meaningful and satisfying in my life, and my relationship with God is one of them. I do have to continue to cultivate that and try to - I guess what I want to say is will that into the center. One never knows quite what he’s relying on until one is kind of tested to the outermost and everything is taken away and we’ll see what’s left. This is a whole area that’s in motion for me, trying to figure this thing out. You can define happiness and joy the way I did, as people often do if you like. I think the most important thing is to see that there’s a difference between some satisfaction that is coming based on the circumstances and when the circumstance changes then you don’t get the satisfaction for that thing and a deeper fulfillment or foundation that is not tied to the circumstances of daily life but is something changeless and that would be our relationship with God.

Whether you call that joy and happiness or whether you call it happiness and joy, I guess is just a matter of convention but knowing that distinction is really critical. Classically the concept of eudaimonia or happiness has been a fulfilling of one’s function or purpose or etiology in life, being not all that you can be like the slogan goes but rather all that God intended for us to be. There’s a deep satisfaction in fulfilling before God but I do think that is a different category of thing as being safe and sound within the bosom of the father so to speak. That might be called joy although Lewis didn’t call that joy. He used a different definition for joy. Joy was that longing that was never satisfied in this life that was an indication that there was some life to come where the longing would find it’s fulfillment.

Melinda: You mentioned the fruit of the spirit of joy and what our role is in cultivating that and I’ve heard Tim Keller preach on this. He talks about Paul saying I count all joy brethren for the sufferings that he goes through. Paul even in the midst of his suffering was able to be joyful.

Greg: Or at least counted joy. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing as experiencing it in his mind.

Melinda: What Tim Keller seems to focus on in our part of cultivating joy is what we choose to focus on. Focusing on Jesus’s love for us and the extent the lengths to what he did and gave up for us. Of course there’s a lot more to that. That’s one of the ways he talks about joy and cultivating that fruit of the spirit in ourselves by what we choose to focus on. Of course, the more we see and focus on what Jesus did for us the more that moves us then to this unchanging joy.

Greg: I wonder if - and it’s good we’re talking about this because I’m exploring as we’re talking. I’m wondering if part of the joy is an acknowledgment that there is something to come that is worth the present suffering. The famous passage in 2 Corinthians 2:16-18 that has the weight of glory line in there that Lewis capitalized on as a title for his essay, momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory. There’s definitely an appeal there to see the difficulties we face now as something that is laying in store for us a great thing in the future that we will experience then but we don’t quite experience now. The anticipation of that, the hope is something that brings us a sense of excitement. I guess it’s kind of like if you’re, right now as we talk I’m three days away from going fishing in Wisconsin. I’ve got some hard work to do between now and then.

There’s a certain sense which I want to get through this work with the expectation and anticipation of this fun that’s coming. There’s a pleasantness about that knowing that there’s something good that I’m anticipating. I see something similar here in Romans 5, doesn’t use the word joy but it uses the exalt language. The first few verses and I love this passage, I know it virtually by heart, therefore having been justified by faith, it’s a done deal, right. We have peace with God, this is not the peace of God it’s the peace with God. God’s not mad at us anymore, okay, through our lord Jesus Christ through whom we’ve obtained our introduction by faith into the grace in which we stand and we exalt.

Now we’re talking about something inside, subjected. We exalt in the hope, which is future, of the glory of God. Not only this, we also exalt in our tribulation knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance, perseverance proven character, et cetera. There’s an acknowledgement that in this moment it may be really hard but there’s something inside of us that is excited about something that is a certainty in the future. That makes the moment worth it, correct.

Melinda: The incorruptible.

Greg: I do find that I’ve been doing this more now, it’s thinking momentary light affliction this is one of my go to verses for quite a while now, reinforcing the idea that this life is not all there is. It’s as JP Moreland said it, it’s a preparation, we’re being prepared to be fit to spend eternity with God. I thought it was a good way of putting it.

Melinda: Now going back to that word happiness, I don’t think biblically it means more of a fleeting thing. In the Bible, blessedness is often translated as happiness which obviously is not sort of more fleeting thing. It’s a deep covenant, kind of belongingness.

Greg: Happy are you when all men make fun of you or whatever and stuff like that.

Melinda: Then I was thinking you also then brought it back to the Greek concept of eudaimonia and fulfilling our purpose. I think that’s what John Piper talks about with happiness, Christian hedonism that our happiness comes from fulfilling our purpose which is to know God and to bring glory to him. That’s certainly not a fleeting thing either.

Greg: No, no and see this is why I think that sometimes the word happiness, I’m not sure if these are all the best words but they’re the ones we’ll work with, right. I think this is a growth process. We’re so tuned in to look at the circumstances to bring satisfaction to us in the moment that it is difficult for us to change gears. Virtually everything around us, education, movies, film, commercials, newspaper ads, magazines, people’s comments, bumper stickers, all of these things are meant to encourage people to get their fullest satisfaction in some temporal goods. Of course those will never satisfy those who were made with eternity in their hearts.

Melinda: Like you said sometimes it’s hard to get, you know you read these things in bible and you know you’re supposed to have them or you’re supposed to cultivate them but how am I supposed to do that. I personally have found a lot of help in understanding, having more insight about how to cultivate that by listening to and reading Tim Keller and John Piper. They’re both able to give me a practical way of learning to practice those things. Okay, next question comes from 82, how do you talk to people about what it means for scripture to be God breathed?

Greg: Well, that’s on a 2 Timothy 3:16 all scripture is theopneustos. I think God breathed, expired so to speak, rather than inspired. That’s the word we use to describe it. There’s a certain sense in which expire, and I don’t mean died, but to come out of God is a better way of characterizing it. This is a technical concept, a technical theological concept. As we parse that passage, the notion is that there is what’s called concursive operation between the human being and the holy spirit. The individual and the individual’s contribution is not effaced. We can tell the difference between John’s writing and Paul’s writing and Peter’s writing for example, they have different styles, Luke also. They are doing human kinds of endeavors like researching or reflecting or organizing.

They’re not getting automatic writing, yet in the process there is something else that’s going on, this breathing of God is the way Paul puts it in 2 Timothy. This breath of God that’s coming through this effort so that the words that are the final result of this effort could equally be said to be the words of the man and the words of God at the same time. Now I understand this is a very esoteric kind of concept, it’s a bit out there but that’s what seems to be communicated there. We also get another little picture from the 2 Peter 1 passage where Peter is talking about revelation and he says, “no act of prophesy,” and that’s the word he’s using to stand in for revelation. He’s speaking of prophesy there but it would apply to any kind of revelation. “No act of prophesy is a matter of,” here it says prophesy of scripture okay, “is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”

It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to interpret it. We have to interpret every communication. He means something else. I continue, “for no prophesy was ever made by an act of human will but men move by the holy spirit spoke from God.” That’s what he’s getting at. It’s not a matter of one’s own invention I guess is a better way of looking at it. There’s a movement of the holy spirit. The prophet’s mouth is moving and he’s not operating mechanically like he’s in a trance. The point that Peter is making there is that the result of it is not just him, it is God speaking. The picture there as I understand it is like the wind moving a ship along, filling the sails of a ship and then moving it forward. These are both pictures in both of these passages of how this concursive operation works.

I think beyond that kind of description we’re into a bit of a mystery. We just don’t know how to parse it out any further. There are other passages that make it clearer that for example Jesus talking about the Pentateuch, he’ll refer to it sometimes as the law, sometimes as God, sometimes as Moses speaking because these are all true. It is God speaking through Moses in the law. Each has the same authority as far as Jesus is concerned. He rotates through those references. I think this just reinforces the notion that I just described that this God breathing enterprise is a matter of God working in conjunction with the writer or the speaker to produce something that they are both involved with that could be said equally to be the man’s word and God’s word and carrying the authority of God’s word at the same time.

Melinda: This is kind of an application, this is why the so called red letter Christians are just wrong because all of the words of the Bible are Jesus’s words.

Greg: Well it suggests a low Christology; that is, that Jesus isn’t God. He’s just this clever guy. Now the red letter crowd does believe Jesus is God as far as I understand...

Melinda: But they think some words have more authority, the ones that Jesus spoke in his earthly ministry. In fact, since God breathed all of this Jesus spoke every word from Genesis through Revelation.

Greg: Yes, Jesus is equally responsible for the whole thing. It should all be red letters in that sense, I agree.

Melinda: For instance, when somebody says Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, well actually he did. He said it in Leviticus, he said it in Romans.

Greg: Well we would say the word had something to say, Jesus being the man, okay just to make that distinction...

Melinda: I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is the way you answer somebody bringing that up but as Christians and as apologists we have to understand, everything from Genesis through Revelation are equally authoritative as the black letters and the red letters.

Greg: That’s right and when I say low Christology, just so people understand, there are different ways to understand Christ. You can understand him as a smart guy. That might be very complimentary to Christ but that’s a low christology because it’s just saying he’s merely a human being. If you understand that Jesus is not just a man but is fully God which is the conventional teaching of Christianity because this is the teaching of scripture, well that’s called a high christology. If Jesus is really God, in other words if we hold to a high christology then we realize that God being the author of all scripture means that Jesus is equally an author of all scripture if we understand Jesus to be the incarnate word and the word came before, Jesus the man is the person that Jesus, that took on humanity and he’s the person who inspired the rest of the scripture. That’s a high christology which we hold to.

Melinda: All right, thanks. Well that’s it for this episode, went a little long on one because it was worth it. I’m Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl for Stand to Reason.