In the Christian life, we have two seemingly opposing declarations that somehow are equally true. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, ESV), and “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV). Both of these statements came from the lips of Jesus.
So which is it? “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, ESV)? Or, “Rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (21 Peter 1:8, ESV)? Follow Jesus and suffer, or follow Jesus and experience joy?
The quick and easy answer is, “Both,” but in the arena of life, it’s hard to accept one when we’d always prefer the other.
Because of this conundrum, some well-meaning believers over-emphasize the suffering and minimize the joy. They believe that to follow Jesus means you will always suffer, for, after all, we are called by Jesus to take up our cross (a symbol of suffering and death) and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
Entire denominations have gained their following through austerity and sternness, creating an environment of discomfort, as though life needs help in dolling out some pain. Oswald Chambers described those with these affections when he wrote, “We imagine that whatever is unpleasant is our duty!” (My Utmost for His Highest, Jan. 29)
Other well-meaning believers swing the pendulum to the other side and believe that the abundant life is a cozy life free of sickness, poverty, and pain. The logic follows, therefore, that if you experience any of the unpleasantries of our fallen world, then your faith is weak, and you’re not naming and claiming the blessings God has already laid out for you.
One famous prosperity preacher declares, “We have to conceive it on the inside before we’re ever going to receive it on the outside,” and once we conceive it, “God will bring it to pass.” Hmm. Tell that to parents who just buried their child after intensive prayers conceiving on the inside what God would bring to pass on the outside.
When I read through the pages of the New Testament, I discover a world in which suffering and beauty co-exist—not peacefully and not without great tension and conflict. But the Garden of Eden this is not; we are in “The Land Between” (Jeff Manion, Zondervan), the land between the first Eden and Eden restored.
Sometimes we see glimpses of what is to come when pain and suffering are overthrown by Light and Joy. Sometimes we walk in the barrenness of a world void of goodness and peace.
In my own journey of faith, in which I am still walking, I am grateful that God pulled back the curtain in Jesus to show us how to live in the co-existence of brokenness and healing. Jesus demonstrated that Himself as He healed the sick and raised the dead only to experience His own suffering on the cross. I don’t know what all of this may mean to you, but to me it gives me hope that while I will inevitably experience the hardships of this life, I follow the One who has overcome and will one day . . . guide me home.