Suffering And Joy
Suffering and Joy
Only we Christians can consider suffering to be joy.
“Count it all joy,” says James, “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). And trials are only true trials if they involve our suffering. So, God commands you to consider your suffering joy.
But not for the sake of the suffering itself. Suffering is bad; pain is bad, in itself. But what does James say? “Count it”—your suffering—“all joy…because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (vss. 2-3).
If you know that your suffering produces good in your life, then you will obey James 1:2 and count your suffering joy. As you suffer you will experience joy, and that joy will come from the very suffering that you face!
Do you want to be perfect and complete as a Christian? Do you want to lay your long-lived habit of sin in the grave it deserves, and cast the dirt of repentance upon it? Do you want your lifestyle to be so remarkable that the lost people in your life wonder at it, and give glory to God? These things are not beyond your reach—they can be yours, if you suffer.
Peter tells his readers,
you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Joy is not the same as happiness, for here these Christians both rejoiced (“you rejoice”) and were grieved (“you have been grieved”). They felt the emotion of sorrow together with a deep joy that the sadness could not break.
But see how Peter says the same things as James concerning suffering: it comes “so that the tested genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The suffering grows your faith and proves that your faith is genuine. The pain improves you.
Therefore if you suffer, says Peter, it is only because it is “necessary.” Necessary for what? For your own movement away from sin and toward the lifestyle of Christ. God would not pain you, his child, unless that pain were necessary for a higher, richer good.
We Christians then must suffer. Suffering of “various kinds” comes into our lives, and we are not “surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon [us] to test [us], as though something strange were happening…” (1 Peter 4:12). Suffering is the normal Christian life.
Yet even more than that, we welcome suffering—not for the pain itself, but because we know we cannot have the higher good of holiness without it. The world sees suffering as suffering; we who believe in Christ see suffering as necessary, normal, healthy, beneficial—even joy. It is a weeping that lasts only for the night, and that breaks at dawn with a shout of joy (Psalm 30:5).
We who follow Christ need COVID-19. We need the inconveniences of quarantine, and even the danger of disease. This unusual season of history is one very necessary part of our development. We need our comforts, our rights, our sense of security infringed upon—how else will we grow?
God’s promise is not, “You will not pass through the waters,” but instead something far better: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2). He never says you will not walk through fire—he says instead that you will. But he assures you that, when you do, “you shall not be burned.” Your faith will be heated to melting point, its useless dross extracted, and you will be because of the fire a better Christian, a better person, and will have a better way of life.
As we all long for normalcy to return to our lives, we are not allowed to wait to rejoice until that normalcy returns. Joy is ours right now. This abnormalcy is shaping us in ways that our normalcy never could, even if it is hard for us to see at present.
So we leave panicking for the world to do. We have always wanted, needed, the nearness of Christ; his absence alone we fear. With the Psalmist we have prayed, “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).
If therefore Christ gives himself to us through pain, through loss, and through COVID-19, we cannot complain. We grasp the thorny stem and smile despite it, counting it all joy, because that stem holds up to us the rose.