Finding Joy in Suffering

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for 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.”  James 1:2-4
 
Let’s admit that suffering is hard. It’s not fun, and it even seems absurd to try and have joywhen trials – and with them, some kind of suffering – come into our lives. Yet, James is telling us to do exactly that. Then he describes how it is, in fact, a benefit to us.
 
I used to view James 1:2-4 from a looking back/hindsight frame of reference. Once we get through the suffering, we can finally look back and see how it resulted in some personal/spiritual growth or blessing, or even relational growth. Counting it as joy right from the beginning and through to the end was too hard for me. It didn’t make sense.
 
So I would grumble and complain to myself, trying to convince God that it would be better to just remove the trial and suffering, but then still put on my stalwart face and say, “well I’m trying to count it as joy” when I really wasn’t doing that at all. It turns out that I was missing the entire point of suffering, and with it, the joy.
 
My journey to finally getting the smallest grasp of the point of suffering started when I realized that my answer to the atheist’s three-point argument that there is no God was also the answer to my inability to see the point of suffering. Here’s the atheist argument:
  1. If God is all-powerful, then He has the ability to destroy evil and prevent suffering.
  2. If God is good, then He should want to destroy evil and prevent suffering.
  3. Evil and suffering exist, therefore a good and all-powerful God does not exist.
 
My answer to that has always been that the atheist has created a god of their own design, and have assumed that they know what this god wants, creating an entirely subjective bar, or standard of god-like behaviour for any god to measure up to, rather than weighing the existing evidence for a God who has already revealed Himself, and may have a reason to allow suffering and evil that we are incapable of grasping.
 
Pastor Bartley Sawatzky pointed out that the curse is supposed to remind us that the world now is not how it was intended, because of the sin of Adam and Eve in the G arden of Eden. The curse obviously produces trials and suffering, just as God said in Genesis 3. So, they are there as reminders of sin, and God’s judgment. Pretty obvious.
 
Then one morning when I read Romans 8:16-17 it hit me like a bolt of lightning:

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

There it was. Suffering is there to assure believers that we belong to Jesus
and therefore have confidence that we will be glorified with Him. Amazing! And with that knowledge, suffering should make us eagerly (yes, with joy) turn towards God, to embrace Him even more and let the suffering do its work, knowing that God is always there with us, and that we are in some way partaking in the suffering of Christ. When we do that, our relationship with the Lord is deeper, wider, sweeter and incredibly energizing. We can truly count it all joy when we know we can look forward to that kind of outcome.  
 
The writer to the Hebrews says this about Jesus:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:14-18

 
Jesus shared in our suffering, and by this we know we can trust Him.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

We may be tempted to refuse the joy of suffering and thereby lose out on the blessing of assurance, as well as the sense of fulfillment in our relationship with God.  But if we remember the purpose of suffering, it can become joy for the results it brings.
 
This ties in well with the ultimate purpose of mankind and what Pastor Bartley said about the suffering, reminding us that the world is not as God intended.
 
The Apostle Paul told the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens that God:
 
“…made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God…”+
 
The God-given purpose of all men from all time and all places is to seek Him. The existence of suffering is a reminder that the world is not as God intended because of sin. When men seek God and find Him, He gives them a new life that can embrace suffering as a joy, because of the promise of eternal life in a perfect, glorified body, on a perfect world that will be exactly as God intended. Without sin.
 
If you do not know God, but would like to, you can find Him right now by turning to Jesus, admitting your guilt before him and forsaking your sin and ways of living without Him. Believe His claims that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect, sinless life, was crucified to pay for the sins of all people. He rose from the dead on the third day and then ascended to Heaven many days later. Submit yourself to His Lordship over your life, confess your belief in Him with your mouth and you will be saved from the curse of sin.
 
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by Dale Albertson