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Joy Beyond Understanding: Common Ground in Suffering and Worship among Eastern European Christians During the Communist Era

PneumaReview.com invites you to read this paper by Professor Eugen Jugaru and discuss the connection between joy and suffering.

Abstract

Suffering for the Christian faith and Christian worship exuberance, paradoxically have a common ground: a joy beyond understanding which comes from the Holy Spirit. The reality of this unusual and passionate experience: joy in sufferings and worship, was experienced by Christians in Romania, a country that for 45 years was ruled by a fierce atheist Communist regime. Their experiences were similar to the first-century Christians who after being beaten for breaking the interdiction to spread the Gospel, “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His (Christ’s) name” (Acts. 5:40-41). Two Christians remained examples for Romanian Christians by their determination in persecution, Richard Wurmbrand and Nicolae Steinhardt.

Also during the persecution in Romania, believers who were not imprisoned have also experienced a deep presence of the Holy Spirit in worship. These moments flooded their hearts with unimaginable joy which gave them power to forgive their enemies and to receive strength to face courageously the atheist regime.

I will be presenting the reality of joy beyond understanding in suffering and worship due to the presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit through the use of written narrative testimonies of Richard Wurmbrand and Nicolae Steinhardt as well as other written testimonies of Christians within the Pentecostal churches of Romania during the same period under the Communist regime. I will be providing an interpretive layer on the materials that will connect their responses to the work of the Spirit. By using current writings and observation I then will reveal the diminishing of this experience in contemporary post-Communism as reflected in the Christian experience in Romania.

Introduction

The theme of joy, whether it is viewed from a Christian perspective based on soteriological or pneumatological elements or whether from secular perspective, is a current topic due to general pessimism which seems to mark the contemporary generation. While we enjoy many of the products and services that did not benefited our parents it seems that there is an unseen enemy of joy that does not allow us to live our lives with great confidence and profound optimism. Joy of life today is overshadowed by the burden of stress, by the assault of various news media, especially negative news, by the fear of sickness or by anxiety of an unsure future due to multiple crises.

In this paper I will be presenting the idea that there can be a real and a deep joy, a joy beyond understanding, beyond the comprehension of our mind and reason, a joy in suffering and in worship, in prayers and songs for those who have accepted the Christian perspective on life. As an example to support this thesis I present the testimonies of several Christians from different denominations, who experienced a joy beyond understanding when they were imprisoned. Their experience can teach us today about the joy beyond understanding, a real joy that surpass difficulties of the life and can help us today when we have freedom and rights, but consequently less joy.

What is joy beyond understanding and how does this kind of joy manifest itself?

Joy beyond understanding is that state of spiritual exaltation that makes a person who has it to forget the difficulties of the life and to experience God’s presence in a very strong, real and personal way.

Joy beyond understanding and comprehension does not depend on the circumstances of life, it is rooted in God’s continual presence and grace, for it is a work of the Holy Spirit. Usually joy is that personal feeling due to certain achievements or because of good news received, but joy beyond understanding does not depend on such external input. Joy beyond understanding cannot be expressed well in words; it can be experienced, felt but not fully communicated in words.

The manifestation of joy beyond understanding can be expressed by a shining upon the face or even by tears of joy. Personally, I think that a smile and laughter can be a manifestation of joy, but does not suggests in the best way the depth of joy, it is not so deep as the tears of joy which cannot be stopped. I watched TV programs broadcasting live emotional meetings between people who have not met for many years, between life partners or between parents and children, and in most of these exciting meetings protagonists could not retain tears of joy.

The joy beyond understanding does not comes from a human predisposition toward happiness or, as I related before from the satisfaction of personal achievement, but its source is divine, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:20-22). When Paul contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of Holy Spirit, he revealed that among the items and fruit of the Spirit is also joy (Greek chara).

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About the Author: Eugen Jugaru, Ph.D. (Lucain Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania), is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Institute in Bucharest, Romania. He has pastored a Pentecostal church since 1993 and is the former President of Operation Mobilization Romania.

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