By now you’ve surely heard about the terrible tragedy that continues to unfold in Japan. Last Friday, a huge earthquake and the resulting tsunami brought tremendous devastation and a king-sized nuclear problem to the Japanese. What the people of Japan are experiencing is profoundly sad—so sad, in fact, that it’s tempting to push the whole situation out of our minds.
But I can’t and won’t allow myself to forget the Japanese. In my reflections, I have been thinking about this question: is it wrong for us to enjoy relatively petty things like the NCAA tournament when people in Japan are suffering so greatly? More broadly speaking, is it wrong for a man to take joy in life when others face severe tribulation?
It seems to me that paying attention both to the “when” of joy and the “how” of joy is crucial if we are going to answer these questions. Paul explains in Philippians 4:4 that we are to: “rejoice in the Lord always” (NIV). When are we to rejoice? Always. How are we to rejoice? In the Lord.
Consider first the “how” of rejoicing, that is, the manner in which we rejoice. It is very possible to take joy in something like the NCAA tournament with complete disregard for God or callousness toward the Japanese. On the other hand, it is very possible to take joy in the NCAA tournament with a heart of thanks toward God for the game, the skill of the players, the fun of the bracket contest(!), and so forth.
The “when” of joy is the other part. When Paul says “always” here, he really does mean always. We should be joyful even when earthquakes strike. We certainly shouldn’t take joy in an earthquake itself, but we should take joy in the midst of the earthquake. In this case, we can take joy in the kindness that others display to the Japanese. We can take joy in the spiritual sensitivity that the tragedy will bring about in all corners of the world. We can even take joy in totally unrelated pleasures the Lord has given us, like watching a basketball tournament.
Coming back to our original questions, it is not wrong for a man to take joy in life when others face severe tribulation; in fact, it is holy, but he must take joy with the right perspective. Join me this weekend, if you will, in praying for the Japanese. Please also join me, though, in enjoying the tournament with an attitude of thanksgiving to God.
— Beau Stanley