Bilal Quintyne of Smyrna, Georgia, was headed out for a morning jog with a friend. He came upon a woman in an electric wheelchair stranded on the side of the road. Her chair’s engine had died, leaving one wheel on the busy street and the other on the sidewalk.
Quintyne took off his shirt in deference to the heat and pushed the woman for thirty minutes until they arrived at her home. His friend shot a video of the incident. As of this morning, it has been viewed more than three million times.
Why does this story resonate with so many people? I think its hero explained it best: “There’s so much hatred in the world and it costs nothing to love someone.”
How Muslims earn joy
The Muslim observance of Ramadan began this year on May 16. Since that time, observant Muslims around the world have abstained from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from sunup to sundown.
Ramadan ended yesterday with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr (“feast of breaking the fast”) that began at sundown and continues until this evening. Different countries and sects observe the holiday in different ways. Most include family and social gatherings, traditional sweet dishes, feasting, wearing new clothes, shopping, and gift-giving.
As a result, today is one of the most celebratory days of the Islamic year. But there’s more to the story.
I could find the word joy only five times in the Qur’an. The first citation states, “Those who believe and do right: joy is for them, and bliss (their) journey’s end” (13:29). Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s commentary on this verse explains that this joy “reflects itself in the life of the good man, through good and ill fortune, through good report and evil.”
Such joy is Allah’s future reward for present obedience: “No soul knoweth what is kept hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do” (32:17). It comes only to the “righteous” (76:5), for whom “Allah hath warded off from them the evil of that day, and hath made them find brightness and joy” (76:11). At the end of time, the righteous person who meets God “will return unto his folk in joy” (84:9).
It is clear in the Qur’an that joy is a product of righteousness and must be earned through obedience to Islamic law. The celebration taking place among Muslims today will be over tonight. Tomorrow, 1.8 billion Muslims will return to their system of five-times-a-day prayers, pilgrimage to Mecca, giving to the poor, recitation of their creed, and fasting during Ramadan when it returns on May 5 of next year.
None of this law-keeping assures a Muslim of his or her place in heaven. Muhammad was not even certain that he would go to heaven (Qur’an 46:9). That’s why Muslims add to his name the phrase “Peace be upon him,” asking Allah to be merciful to him in the afterlife.
How Christians receive joy
My purpose today is not to be pejorative toward Islam. Rather, it is to note that Christians can easily approach joy as Muslims do: as God’s reward for our good works.
The fact is, Scripture teaches just the opposite.
The word joy appears in the Bible 218 times (New International Version). According to the definitive Anchor Bible Dictionary, “The experience of deliverance and the anticipation of salvation provide the most significant occasions for rejoicing among the people of God in the Old Testament. The coming of the Messiah, who delivers his people and brings salvation becomes the basis for rejoicing in the New Testament.”
For example, the prophet predicted, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). He was right: after Philip proclaimed the gospel in Samaria, “there was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:8).
As a result of David’s deliverance from his enemies, he could pray, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). Because of the “salvation” God offers us (1 Chronicles 16:23), “strength and joy fill his palace” (v. 27 ISV). Even while facing persecution, those saved by Jesus “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).
In Islam, Allah rewards the obedient with joy. In Christianity, God delivers us from our disobedience and joy is the result.
Unfortunately, all too often we try to earn what God can only give.
“Heaven begins below”
I became a Christian as a teenager because I was attracted to the joy I saw in Christians.
The fact that Bilal Quintyne’s video went viral demonstrates that we are looking for love and grace in a loveless, graceless world. The joy of Jesus can be your most powerful witness to the Muslims you know and to your larger culture as well.
Because joy is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), you and I can pray right now for the Spirit to control us (Ephesians 5:18) and produce his joy in our lives and witness. We can ask God to give us his joy in every circumstance and challenge we face today.
If our Father is not manifesting his joy in us, the fault is not his.
In honor of Flag Day yesterday, I tweeted this statement by Ronald Reagan: “I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s all right to keep asking if we’re on His side.” Have you asked that question today?
And when we taste thy love,
Our joys divinely grow
Unspeakable, like those above,
And heaven begins below.