Restore to me the joy of Your deliverance, and uphold me, Noble Spirit! Psalm (Tehillim) 51:12 ISR
Joy – Is there any greater joy than the feeling of being rescued from certain disaster? Every basic survival instinct is flooded with relief as soon as you know you will continue to live. Yes, the joy of companionship is wonderful. Yes, the joyful intimacy of a spouse or of children is close to divine. But to be snatched from the grip of death! That is reason to rejoice!
Unfortunately, far too often the wonder that bathed our lives when we first experienced God’s gracious rescue seems to fade. The memory of that moment of truth dims. We look back on it with hopeful nostalgia, wishing that somehow we could have bottled that experience and hidden it away for eternal refreshment. But we are like Mary. Having encountered the Spirit in a life-transforming surprise, years later we find ourselves asking our Lord to please stop making such a spectacle and come home to a quiet and comfortable existence. I am sure Mary felt a small pang of remorse in that request. Once God filled her entire being. Once God made Himself present even in her womb. But that was long ago, and things tend toward entropy, physically and spiritually.
David knew this sense of loss too. So he cries out, “Restore to me the joy. . .” Ha-shiva li sason . . . The word sason means happiness, delight, exuberance. Its synonym, simha, means being glad or joyful as an expression of the entire person. In the synonym, we find joy as a description of engaging in the festivals, drinking wine, being treated with healing ointment, meeting a loved one, having a wise son and, most importantly, experiencing the rescue of YHWH. Perhaps we learn two important lessons in David’s desperate cry. The first thing we learn is that life is emotional meteorology. We are all subject to temperament climate change. The Greek denial of pascho is a misrepresentation of the nature of human being. Feelings are the fabric of life. A man (or a God) without feelings is Michelangelo marble – beautiful to look at but not a great traveling companion. The Bible endorses feelings. In fact, our emotions are the gateway to experiencing God. Feel! It’s OK. Weep, laugh, shout, cry, rejoice, repent – this is what it means to be nephesh hayah. To bury emotion is to bury myself.
But we also learn something else. While no emotion is permanent, every emotion can draw us toward YHWH or push us away. We are at liberty to choose. The Greeks feared emotions because they sought permanent balance. Hebrew takes a different tack. Emotions are the fodder of choice. I can let them drive me or I can corral them in the service of the King. Once David allowed his emotion to carry him far from his King. Now he seeks restoration and emotion is the train that he rides to reach his goal.
I feel David’s pain too. I long for that joy, the same overwhelming sense of relief I felt on the soccer field in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, so many years ago. I am wiser now, more sophisticated in my faith, perhaps, but Nathan comes to me too, and I need restoration. Perhaps you know what I am talking about. Once the light of heaven spilled from your countenance. Once you heard the angels sing. Once you felt His hand grip yours.
“Lord, restore us to your joy. We are in desperate need. We have wandered like sheep without a shepherd. Bring us back to safety that we might live again.”
Topical Index: emotions, simha, sason, joy, Psalm 51:12