“Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering.” Augustine
Ok, let’s dive into one of the central struggles of living in joy – can we know joy in the face of pain, suffering, and tragedy? Is it possible, even advisable, to choose joy in seasons of devastating sorrow? Does joy trivialize our sufferings?
I’m wondering because of a few things that came up today. I received an email from my niece who talked of significant struggles she’s experienced this past year and the struggle to find joy in it. Then at Synod tonight, the President of Synod talked of how 5 years ago his grandson was suddenly killed, and all the sorrow over my nephew David’s death ambushed me. How can we make the choice to rejoice when young lives are snuffed out, when brutality crushes, when tragedy sears our life?
One thing is for certain, it’s not the choice to find joy for the circumstance. Tragedy is bitter, even though there may be a larger meaning in it. To ask someone to choose joy for whatever circumstance would be simply a cruel distortion of faith.
So how can joy be a real option even in the midst of stinging tragedy? Its source has to be somewhere else, no less real but outside of what we now see and experience.
I don’t know any other answer than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of any other foundation for genuine gladness than a real person raised from the dead, resurrected. Because if the resurrection is true, then all the suffering and tragedies that scar life don’t have the final say. If true, then the best is yet to come and we get everything back. The resurrection means that one day all things will be made new again, everything that was lost in this life will be restored and given back, every wrong and tragedy undone.
Resurrection means this real world healed, cleansed, made new again, birthed into something new and wonderful. The ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah looked forward to the glory of that day and said that the mountains will be breaking out into song and the trees of the field will be clapping their hands. If that’s what trees and mountains will be doing, can you imagine what we’ll be like?
It doesn’t mean that whatever we suffer is taken away, but the resurrection changes it. Our life isn’t defined by loss or tragedy. Every sorrow, every loss, every failure is changed into a greater glory – that’s God’s story.
And the depth of the joy we can experience today is woven into how well we can see and taste and long for God’s good future. We’ve got to think deeply, imaginatively about our future – ditch the inane “strum-the-harp-on-your-cloud” ideas and get really concrete – mountains, camping, great music, reunions with loved ones, minds that think clearly, legs that work, all those years and experiences you missed out on restored, an eternity to experience all those things you wanted to do but were either too busy or scared or unable to do.
Real joy is never an escape from suffering; it’s a defiance in the face of it.