Enos and the Joy of the Saints

Authors Note: For reasons that are lost to me know, I did not write anything about the Book of Enos in my 2016 series of posts that became the recently published book Buried Treasures. Today, I was assigned to lead a Priesthood-Meeting discussion about Elder Christofferson’s talk, “The Joy of the Saints,” which references Enos extensively. Always looking for messages from the Universe, I took this as a sign and prepared the following lesson, which readers of the book should feel free to print off, insert, and pretend that it was always there.

Enos 1

When I ask people to define “joy”–which I do from time to time because I am weird like that–they usually come up with one (or more) of three related synonyms. Joy, they say, is like happiness. Or it is like pleasure. Or it is like a deep and abiding feeling peace that convinces us that everything is going to be OK.

These, I would suggest, are exactly the three things that look like joy but are not. And perhaps the best way to define joy is to place it in contrast with these three look-alikes.

Joy is not the same as happiness . Happiness comes from the Middle-English root word hap, which means “chance” or “fortune.” The same root can be found in words like “happen,” “hapless,” and “happenstance.” Happiness is what we get when good things happen–when the putt drops, or the home team wins. When those things unhappen, their unhappening leads to unhappiness. Joy, on the other hand is eternal.

And joy is not the same thing as pleasure. Pleasure is a purely physical sensation. We can get it by putting chemicals into our body, or by doing or seeing things that cause our bodies to release chemicals into our brain. Pleasure feels good, but, by its very nature, it goes away when the chemical stimulation ends. And pleasure is usually transactional. If you know where to shop, you can probably buy it in just about any form.

But most of all–and this is probably the most important thing we learn from Enos–joy is not the same thing as peace, or, at least, of the kind of peace that is related to contentment and comfort and a feeling that everything is OK. In 2 Nephi, the Book of Mormon tells us that joy is the opposite of this kind of contentment, which Adam and Eve experienced abudantly in the Garden of Eden:

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. . . . Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Ne 2:22-23; 25)

The most important thing we learn from this passage is that having joy is the whole point of human existence. But also crucial is the distincting that it draws between joy and contentment. Adam and Eve were content in the Garden because they did not know that anything better was possible. They had all of their needs met. They were safe. They were at peace with the world and all of its creatures (one slightly naughty talking serpent excepted). But they did not have joy.

When they left the garden, they had misery, hardship, enmity, and pain. But they also had joy because they knew what was possible. They knew that they could be so much more than content. The serpent had been right about that–they could be as the Gods. It is the knowledge of these possibilities that gave them joy.

In his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis goes to some effort to distinguish joy from other forms of positive feeling.

Joy, is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.

For Lewis, joy is the yearning that comes with the knowledge that God is real and that Christ really did bring about reconciliation with God. As an atheist, Lewis acknowledges, he was content. He did not worry about a resurrection or an afterlife because he did not see such things as possible. A knowledge of God gave him hope, and hope lead to joy. But it was not a calm, peaceful joy. It was a restless-yearning kind of joy. Once he decided to believe, he had to abandon both peace and contentment for a life of yearning.

The language that Enos uses to describe his experience is remarkably similar to the language that Lewis uses. After reflecting on his father’s words regarding “eternal life, and the joy of the saints,” Enos is struck by an urgent desire to understand that joy:

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. (Enos 1:4)

His experience matches Lewis’s almost exactly, once he determines that something beyond his current existence is possible, he can no longer be content with hunting and gathering. He feels an overwhelming desire to communicate with a divinity beyond himself whose possibility he had not earlier understood. The possibility gave him hope, and the hope robbed him of his peace.

But the most instructive part of the story comes after God responds to Enos’s prayers and announces that his sins are forgiven. Once Enos understands -the reality of the Atonement, and receives an absolute knowledge of his own salvation, he does not rest content. Rather, he becomes obsessed with the salvation of his community, the Nephites, and with the salvation of his enemies, the Lamanites. Once Enos understands the possibility of reconciliation to God, he cannot be content until everybody else understands it too.

And this is how joy works. When we have it–remember that having it is the whole point of our existence–we understand the overwhelming reality of God’s love, and that reality changes our lives. It is neither a temporary feeling nor a consequence of good fortune, but a conceptual rock upon which everything else must eventually break to pieces. It can make us deeply uncomfortable, as it takes “going about our business” off the table forever. But, once we experience it, we can never imagine living without it again.


  1. Jorge Cocco!

  2. This is great. So great. I wish I hadn’t resigned as SS teacher so I could walk my ward through your book this year. Maybe I will anyway by hijacking the discussion.

    But how am I supposed to add it to my kindle edition?

  3. I am interested in your thoughts. I think that calling pleasure transactional and limited is a more limited definition than the experience of many though, and I believe the Spirit hijacks our physiology to help us attain ecstasy through righteousness–which degrades pleasure if you think pleasure is strictly transactional. Whether pleasure and ecstasy as experienced in a marriage with absolute trust or ecstatic group experience such as singing and playing Messiah with 2000 people, I believe that physiology (love and bonding hormones) help us bond to our earth family, friends, and God. I am not sure you can suss out where the lines are with joy and love. But because of the joy, we (and Enos) want to extend the love of God to all so they can also feel the joy and love.

  4. Thank you Michael. Everything is being stripped from me, everything is being given to me with both hands open. None of it fits within the bounds. The joy is overwhelming. Enos, Lewis, and Michael have helped me this morning. Thank you my brother.

  5. Reminds me of this from Wild Sweet Orange song: Either/Or:

    “All the things I’ve loved I’ve been before
    I’ve picked myself up off the floor
    And heard the dawn break against the door
    And known and believed it was something
    More like a voice less like a noise
    More like a soul less like a void
    And you can learn to live without it
    But your hearts gonna stay torn
    And you can try hard not to need it
    But you’ll want it more and more
    Its like the calm before the storm

  6. I appreciate the distinctions Michael suggests. As I have recently been exploring “peace” in the scriptures and some Christian writings, I particularly noted that Michael spoke of only one kind of peace as distinct from Joy — “the kind of peace that is related to contentment and comfort and a feeling that everything is OK.”

    While most Book of Mormon references to peace appear to mean simply the absence of war, there are a number of references to another kind of peace, e.g. Mosiah 12:21; Mosiah 15:14; Alma 38:8; 2 Nephi 4:27; 3 Nephi 20:40. And, of course, there is the quintessential reference to Christian peace in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
    I think I’ll have to be careful how I introduce Michael’s distinctions in Sunday School. We have some people who are immovably convinced that the scriptures always use any particular word to mean the same thing and that there are no language/translation issues in the Book of Mormon.
    We also have scriptural confusion about “happiness,” as in Alma 42:8 referring to the “great plan of happiness,” supported, of course, by common teachings equating “happiness” and “joy” and going back at least to: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it.” (History of the Church, 5:134.)

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