September 7-8, 2012
In common usage, joy is often thought of as simply an intense, positive emotional state, but what sort of emotional state is joy, if it is one at all? What can a robustly theological account of joy offer a culture in search of fulfillment, and to what extent is joy the very crown of a flourishing life?
In our consultation on happiness, participants agreed that happiness is not a fleeting emotional state but a feature of a flourishing life, a life that is lived well and that goes well. In our 2012 consultation, we began by exploring joy as the emotional side of happiness. Some contemporary psychological accounts share the common idea that joy is one of the constellation of emotions that makes up happiness. But, if so, what kind of emotional state is it?
Joy, unlike happiness, is a frequent theme of the Scriptures and is consistently associated with salvation. In the Psalms and the prophets, for example, joy is the proper response to God’s saving activity. And in the Gospel of John it is the result of union with Christ. The apostle Paul joins together joy and peace on a number of occasions, conceiving of them as the effects brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, on the whole, joy has not been a prominent theme in the works of major theologians. Karl Barth, who claimed that joy is an anticipation of eschatological fulfillment, is more an exception than the rule. Consultation participants aimed to rectify this gap in the theological literature, pursuing a thoroughly theological reading and looking particularly to those streams of thought which understand joy less as a surface emotion and more as an abiding state—and even as a state of the world (as in the phrase in a parable about the Last Judgment: “Enter into the joy!”)—and then examined this state’s connection to the flourishing of human beings.
The 2012 consultation on Joy and Human Flourishing was integral to the launch of the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project.
Papers from this consultation have been published by Fortress Press in an edited volume: Joy and Human Flourishing: Essays on Theology, Culture, and the Good Life.