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How To Find Joy “IN” Suffering

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When Scripture indicates that Christians should be able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:3-5) because of the hope we have in the gospel, it can be difficult to accept. Some try

 to make the teaching more palatable by offering a variant definition of “joy;” others try to promise that the outcomes of how God redeems suffering will be so significant the pleasure will be greater than the pain.

There are times when either approach can be accurate and helpful. Yes, there are times when our expectations of happiness are so temporal that we need to be challenged. And, there are also times when God does amazing things in our hardships which we would never change.

But these two options, by themselves, seem incomplete. I would like to offer a third possibility through a metaphor emphasizing the word “in.”

There is a rainbow “in” every drop of water. When light passes through a water droplet a full spectrum of colors are revealed. Depending on the source of light, shape of the water, and location of the surface on which the rainbow appears different variants of colors show up. The full ROY G BIV spectrum is there, but the thickness of each color varies.

Here is how the metaphor plays out:   

  • Water represents the suffering we experience.
  • Light represents the redemptive work / truth of God.
  • Colors represent the various religious affections that can be demonstrated; for the purposes of this blog, the expectation that we should experience joy.

Joy is not the only “color” that can express faith (light) in hardship (water). There is also courage, hope, honesty, authenticity, love, etc… Too often in these suffering-joy discussions we get hung up on one color in the rainbow. There are times; perhaps frequently in the early stages of suffering, when “joy” may be the skinny color in the rainbow.

Consider, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matt. 5:4).” In this case the dominant color of faith is authenticity – being vulnerable about the nature of one’s loss. God’s light takes the form of comfort in this context of loss. The result is the capacity for joy, a very skinny color in the immediate moment, is a slowly returned as precious memories you loved one can be savored again.

The reality is that various forms of suffering (water – pure, salted, colored) will produce different emotional experiences. How God cares for and speaks to each of these situations will be different (light – sun, florescent, colored). In return the emotional form our faith takes (color – full emotional spectrum) will be different and may initially be “dark” or “dull” colors.

But the promise is, as we cooperate with God’s redemptive work in the midst of our suffering, the “joy color” will be restored to our emotional experience. Suffering cannot remove the capacity for joy from our experience.

God does not call us to be emotionally fake – the equivalent of adding food coloring to the water to force the “appropriate-Christian” color change. Instead, God calls us to trust him that the capacity for joy is not removed from our life by the pollution of suffering.

While I know this is stretching the metaphor even further, I believe it is another important point to be made, sometimes God restores the capacity for joy by wiping away the droplet in the form of a tear and collecting it as a tender treasure (Psalm 56:8). God often choose tenderness as his “light,” even more than explanation, as the way he restores our capacity for joy.

Any post built on metaphors runs the risk of being as confusing as clarifying. My attempt has been to help those who are suffering see that God does not expect you to force a pleasant emotion on these experiences. God can comfort you in this moment and still bring forth the “color of joy” in the experience while honoring the genuine emotional turmoil of your suffering.

Posted on March 20, 2011