Finding Joy Hiding Under The Shadow of Suffering

I’m fairly sure my dad bought me many things when I was a child. I’m sure there were new bicycles, model cars and other toys.

But the truth is I don’t really remember much about those things.

Here is what I do remember.

I remember sleepily crawling out of a two man tent by the lake early one morning, to find my dad frying fresh small mouth bass on a campfire.

I remember sitting in a hunting-blind in freezing cold at 5 AM with our shotguns in hand waiting for ducks to fly over.

And I remember stepping on a Copperhead and then standing there with its head pinned under my foot and not being afraid because I had no doubt my dad would know what to do. I was right. He did. (And he never showed any fear. Even in situations involving Copperheads.)

The Fleeting Joys Found in Temporary Things

I am sure there was a type momentary happiness in those things my dad bought for me, like toys and trinkets,  but it is the joy of knowing him that has proven to be a true joy that never fades. ( Even though I didn’t realize it at the time.)

And now many years later, even though I know this truth, I still find myself sometimes seeking and even relishing the fleeting joys found in temporary things. It is in my nature. This propensity to grasp and attempt to hold onto a kind of fake happiness we get from temporary substitutes is embedded in my humanity. It is a lingering scar, a consequence of the disobedience of Adam.

It’s not that those things are bad. They are sometimes good.

But the truth is bicycles rust and model cars break.

I can tell you this. I didn’t like getting up at 3 AM to go sit for hours in the freezing cold. I thought it was miserable at the time. In fact, dad had to wake me several times and push me to get up and going.  But now looking back, I’m glad he did.

Fathers know the value of such things.

And now looking back,  I’m thankful. I’m am even thankful for the temporary things, I thought I wanted, but that he denied me. And I rejoice in the memories, lessons, and the lasting joys he gave me instead. But at the time I would have not been able to comprehend the value of those greater things.

Recognizing True Treasure

Everything in this life is a reflection of our relationship with God and is meant to teach us something about Him and eternity.

The scriptures teach us that grass withers and flowers fall, but the word of God endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). We learn from the Psalmist that only God is the source of true lasting joy (Psalm 16:11).

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a man finding a treasure hidden in a field and knowing its value hid it and then went and sold all that he had so that he could buy the field.

Try as we might, it’s hard, if not impossible to fully appreciate the value of this treasure we have in Christ. It is too easy for us to become so focused on the wonderful gifts that God has given in this life that we forget the value of the giver.

And just like my dad had to wake me at 3:00 am because of what he knew, what if God must allow us to suffer so that we can learn the value of the true and greater joy that can only come in knowing Christ.

Don Kistler writes,

“Joy in God in the midst of suffering makes the worth of God – the all-satisfying glory of God – shine more brightly than it would through our joy at any other time. Sunshine happiness signals the value of sunshine. But happiness in suffering signals the value of God. Suffering and hardship joyfully accepted in the path of obedience to Christ show the supremacy of Christ more than all our faithfulness in fair day.”
– Don Kistler

John Piper says it this way,

“When we have little and have lost much, Christ comes and reveals himself as more valuable than what we have lost. And when we have much and are overflowing in abundance, Christ comes and he shows that he is far superior to everything we have.”

In light of eternity, wouldn’t God do whatever it takes to teach us the value of this treasure, that is only found in Christ, above all other things?

So many hurting people have come to their pastors asking the question of why does God allow us to suffer only to be given the answer that it is because of sin and a broken world. That isn’t enough for me. I can’t imagine how it is enough for anyone.

They have been told beyond that we can never know this side of heaven. They say that the Bible doesn’t tell us why but that is simply not true. The New Testament has much to say about why God allows us to suffer. Maybe they fear that the answers are not what hurting people want to hear. I believe they are.

There are number of reasons given in the New Testament of why God allows us to suffer but the one that seems to be predominant is so that we might develop deeper faith and intimacy with God. In other words  so we might learn the true joy and value of the sufficiency of Christ.

Even among the great men and woman of the New Testament, God often used suffering to build their faith and finish the work He had begun in them.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV

Hebrews 12:10-11 assures us that although it is painful, the discipline of God “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Paul lived a life of tremendous suffering and in those trials he learned the value of Christ alone which is why he was able to write,

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”
Philippians 3:8 ESV

If everything else didn’t break and wither away would we truly know how to appreciate the never ending perfect peace and joy that is only found in Christ.

I’ve never heard anyone say that the most precious communion they have experienced with God was during those bright sunny days. 1 Yet, I’ve heard many say that it was under the shadow of suffering that they felt closest to Him. In fact, I’ve even read of those who have suffered some of the most agonizing persecution,, and yet when it was over, a part of them longed to experience the fellowship with Christ they had known amidst the pain. But no matter how hard they tried they were unable to get it back in the comfort of their lives.

Indeed “there are rare and wonderful species of joy that flourish only in the rainy atmosphere of suffering.” 2

Just as gold is purified in fire the genuineness of your faith is refined through testing and trials. (see 1 Peter 1:7)

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier, as James says, “to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2)

How can the parents who have waited in joyful anticipation to meet their new baby girl, consider it all joy when the child is still born?

How can the single mother of three count it all joy when she has last her job and been kicked out of her apartment?

Knowing that God is working all things together for our good doesn’t make it easier. But with the help of God, in Christ, it will remind us to allow the testing to do it’s good work in us producing steadfastness (verse 3) and faith. We can either allow the pain to push us away from God or we can allow it to do its perfect work in us firmly establishing our hope in God as we intimately cling to Jesus who says to us,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.””
John 16:33 ESV

1. John Piper
2. John Piper DesiringGod.org

About The Author

Dustin Cannon lives in Virginia with his wife and children. He is the author of That We Might Love and Calling Down The Power of Heaven.

He is currently working on a new book called A Hooker and a Homosexual Walk Into A Bakery – The Parable of a Lavishly Loving God Who Doesn’t Give A Damn About Keeping Score  (Available December 2017)

 

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