In what does the Christian have to rejoice? What reason do we have to find joy?
The answers are endless. But when you ask questions like these against the backdrop of a dark and sinful world where unimaginable evil and suffering occurs, it can be harder to give an answer. For example, how does the mother who lost her child in a car accident rejoice in God? How does the father who loses yet another job find joy in God? How does a child of divorce rejoice in God when he has to pack up his life and move between two different worlds every week? Suffering and evil seem like an insurmountable roadblock to real and lasting joy in God.
One of the answers we give as a reason we can rejoice in God in the face of suffering is our hope for future glory.
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2).
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Pt. 1:3-6).
There is genuine hope in the future glory of God’s presence for all who stand in Christ today. Paul’s view of the eschaton is so stupendously glorious that he considers some of life’s most painful sufferings as feathers when compared to the weight of walking in God’s glory. On that day when sin and suffering are cast into a sea of fire never again to haunt us, we will look back on our hard trials as soft pillows as we bask in the glory of our God of infinite pleasure and joy.
So, if you are a Christian today, you have hope that will crush any despair created by suffering. You have hope in a future reality granted by the Lamb who was crushed for our iniquities. Suffering has committed suicide in the suffering of Christ. Suffering simply cannot stand up against the hope of the justified in the future joy of God’s glory.
All of this is true. But what about today? The “hope of the glory of God” is reason to rejoice in what is to come. But in that day, there will be no suffering. What about now, when sin and suffering still persist? What about the Christian who is not only suffering right now, but the one who is suffering right now precisely because he is a Christian? Can we find joy even in this sorrow-filled world?
Paul’s answer is a resounding, “Yes!” He writes, ‘Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
Notice, Paul doesn’t say we can rejoice someday when suffering is over. He says there is a path to real joy right now in the depth of our suffering. I am convinced of the Christian worldview’s handling of evil and suffering because Romans 5:3-4 exist. Contrary to a naturalistic or nihilistic worldview, which see suffering as an inevitable and meaningless by product of world with no maker, suffering through the Christian lens is never meaningless. God uses it and even sends it to create and produce.
In this case, suffering produces endurance, character, and shameless hope. God uses suffering in the life of the Christian to make him or her more like Christ. Suffering is not the end of the story, nor is it an unfortunate and random by-product of spontaneous combustion. Suffering is part of the story of God’s redemption of the world.
Suffering is not sovereign, nor is it eternal. It is a temporary result of the fall under the sovereign wisdom and power and grace of God. Remember, Christian, that the God who will one day crush suffering forever, wields suffering today for your good and for your joy.
Those who have received God’s love are no match for the worst this world has to offer. The gospel produces fearless, courageous, joyful saints, even in the darkest night of suffering.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.