Joy is the infallible proof of the presence of God. ~~Madeline L'Engle
When that quote showed up on my Twitter feed last night, I vacillated between laughing, crying and throwing up. I have fond childhood memories of Madeline L'Engle's book, A Wrinkle In Time, but I rather wish she'd confined her writing to children's fiction and left theology alone. That quote sounds pretty and poetic, admittedly, but it positively oozes with the sloppy theology that permeates today's visible church.
L'Engle elevates the subjective emotion of joy as "infallible proof" that God is present. This "reasoning" reminds me of so many professing Christians who validate things like the Gay Christian Movement because they interpret the enthusiasm among "gay Christians" as an indication that He sanctions their misinterpretation of Scripture.
But truth must never be at the mercy of fleeting experience. People often feel great joy in the midst of extremely sinful behavior. Yet God, being holy, neither will nor can grace sinful behavior with His presence. The joy at a college drinking party may, in some instances (such as celebrating the end of finals), be quite genuine, but any true presence of the Lord would bring the revelers to repentance in short order. Indeed, His presence brought the prophet Isaiah to humility.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” ~~Isaiah 6:1-5 (ESV)
Throughout the Bible, actually, God's presence frequently evoked fear and trembling as people saw the contrast between their sinfulness and His holiness. Sometimes, joy followed. And we definitely will have joy in heaven, where those of us who are born again through His Spirit will be in His presence forever. But humility and repentance serve as much more reliable indicators of His presence for now.
Hopefully Madeline L'Engle ironed out her theology before she died.