Desiring Joy Not Joyful Suffering
I am deeply concerned about a trend in some Christian circles to glorify suffering, as if suffering is somehow a good thing. Over the past few months, I have heard that suffering should not only be anticipated, but gladly accepted because of its benefits. Of course, this is not exactly a “recent” trend, but one that can be traced back to Catholics in the Middle Ages. To this, I would like to offer an important clarification.
First of all, there is nothing good in suffering itself. God does not delight in the suffering of a person being killed, nor did Jesus find any satisfaction in His crucifixion. Suffering involves suffering, and we know from Scripture that God abhors violence. Simply put, God does not delight in pain.
Errantly, it has been said that “there is nothing inherently evil about suffering,” but this needs to be qualified. Although this is true for an athlete in training or a religious person who fasts from a meal, this is not normally what we mean when talking about “suffering.” Usually, suffering involves physical, emotional, and relational pain. We cannot categorize all suffering as the same. Some sufferings are voluntary or amoral, while other sufferings are involuntary or immoral.
Experiencing this latter kind of suffering, a sufferer undergoes pain, and the reality of that pain should never be diminished. There is nothing good about a child dying. Nothing good about an instance of abuse, murder, rape, or any other horrific evil in the world. Evil is evil, and it would be a tragic error to ever suggest otherwise. As it says in James 1, our good God has nothing to do with causing temptation or evil.
When the Bible speaks of finding joy in the midst of suffering — such as in 1 Peter — joy is not found in the suffering itself. Rather, the joy is found despite the suffering. Joy is found in God — in His steadfastness, in His comfort, in His healing, in His power, etc. — and not in the circumstances that surround us. Trying to find joy in painful circumstances is like trying to cool off in the midst of a heatwave; it is an empty mind trick.
We should never be surprised or be caught off guard by suffering, but at the same time, we should not anticipate or glorify it. Like Jesus, we can pray for the cup of suffering to pass from us. Since Jesus was not a masochist, neither are we as Christians. I would argue that we should pray that suffering passes from us, lest we try to be more holy than Jesus. Following Jesus’ example, we can ask God for another way and for healing from our pain.
The joy that we experience in our suffering is God Himself, not the circumstances of our suffering. For that reason, we should not fear suffering, nor should we exalt personal comfort as the ultimate goal. It is through difficulty that our vision becomes clear. We can see who God is — perfect, faithful, and safe — better than we can during other times in our lives.
God allows for suffering because sometimes suffering is a lesser danger than a false sense of perfection, comfort, and ease. God never delights in pain itself, but like an athlete in training, He can see the benefits beyond the pain.
If suffering were necessary for joy or for God’s glory, we would expect to suffer in heaven. But to the contrary, we know that the ultimate joy lies beyond the suffering of this present world. May our eyes see beyond this pain and look towards the everlasting comfort that is coming…
Through Our Hands
“Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our brothers and sisters throughout the world, who live and die in poverty and pain. Give them today, through our hands, their daily bread and through our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen.”
Blessed are the poor.
For theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the hungry.
For they shall be filled.
(Common Prayer, Midday Prayers, June 2)
Living Beyond the Natural
“God has made you a rational animal, set you over the cattle, formed you in his own image. Ought you to use your eyes as the cattle do, only to see what to add to your belly, not to your soul?
Stir up the eye of reason, use your eyes as a human being should, consider the heaven and earth, the fruitfulness of the earth, the flight of the birds, the swimming of the fish, the goodness of the seeds; consider the works, and seek for the author. Believe in him you do not see because of these things that you see.
If you think that it is with my own words that I have exhorted you, hear the Apostle: ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities… have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made’ (Rom. 1:20).”
– Augustine of Hippo
Beginning of Advent
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Thousands of years beforehand, God planned Jesus’ birth.
God’s plan was not to make everyone wealthy or to give us political victory, but to save the world from sin. Adam and Eve fell short of God’s glory by sinning against Almighty God, just as we have all sinned. Yet in the midst of our sin, God promised that He would provide a Savior to save us from our sins.
As early as Genesis 3, God explained what his plan would be: He would provide an offspring of Eve to overcome the devil. This incredible promise, following Adam and Eve’s sin, was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. All of humanity longed for this long-awaited Savior to defeat the deceiver, and with Christ’s birth, God fulfilled His promise to save His people from their sins.
Prayer: Lord, help us to remember the true meaning of Christmas this year. With all of the hustle and bustle that surrounds us, please help us to remember your incredible promise to save the world. This Christmas, help us to look beyond ourselves and to recognize the victory that only comes through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Music to Check Out
Today, The Weepies released a brand new CD, and it got me thinking of some artists that are worth checking out. This list could go on for pages, so I’ll save some for later, but if you are looking for some new music, be sure to listen to these:
Charlie Hall — Christian worship
Denison Witmer — Catholic, Philadelphia singer / song-writer
Fernando Ortega — Christian, peaceful, orchestral
Ingrid Michaelson — NYC indie-pop
Adam Watts — Christian, one of the best artists you’ve never known
Mute Math — Electro, ambient rock
Glen Phillips — Formerly of Todd the Wet Sprocket
The Choir — Christian, ambient rock, classic
Robert Randolph — Christian blues; incredible in concert
Plumb — Christian, electronic alternative
Shane & Shane — Christian worship, acoustic, tight vocal harmonies