When I first asked myself this question, I wanted the answer to be one or the other. That makes things easier because then, I felt, I could know what to expect out of life. It’s either going to be joyful and fun or filled with pain and suffering. I just wanted to know what I was getting myself in to.
As broken human beings, we all are tempted to seek to control our lives in some way. It seems too scary to entrust ourselves to a mysterious God we do not know or see. If we do entrust ourselves to Him will He make our lives good or will he allow them to be bad? We want to know.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) the answer is: BOTH. Jesus promises us both joy and suffering in this life. Why is this?
Well, if you are born into this world, you will suffer. We may be able to escape from some of the discomforts of living for a while by distracting ourselves with entertainments, people, things, hobbies, you name it, but suffering will always be present in this world because we have separated ourselves from God.
Fortunately, Jesus came into our world because He wanted to bring us back to Himself. In His quest to bring us back he chose to enter into our state of suffering, even to the point of dying. But it was here in the darkest place that He brought about a great gift for us – our redemption. That place of suffering is now a place of great joy.
How did Jesus do that? How did He turn suffering into something joyful? He did it by staying in relationship with His Father through the suffering. When we are in true union with God, He makes every situation new. He exalts the lowly. He comforts the mourners. He gives His Spirit. He makes us His children.
True joy comes from being in relationship with God. This is exactly what Christianity offers us – a relationship with God. In this relationship we are asked to take up our own crosses and follow Jesus. We are also told that Jesus came that “His joy may be in us, and our joy would be full.” How can both of these statements be true and go together? They can only be true if we see and experience our joys and our crosses in relationship with God.
A joy experienced without God will never give us true and lasting joy. A suffering experienced without God will cause us despair. But a joy experienced in relationship with God will echo in eternity. And a suffering experienced in relationship with God will bring about great intimacy, and joy that the world cannot give.
As we entrust ourselves to God and embark on this Christian journey we must expect joy and pain. But we must remember not to enter into either of these without being with God. The relationship with him transforms every situation. The saints knew this, and this is how they had the strength to endure sufferings with confidence and great joy. They even ran to their crosses because they knew that was where they would be most filled with love and joy.
This is how we can have confidence to proclaim Christ crucified to those who are in darkness and in need of a savior. We don’t proclaim Him crucified to share something depressing with them, but to give them hope that in their suffering Christ has come. If they enter into that relationship with Him, their suffering can be turned into joy. This is the hope that is offered to us as Christians.
When we enter into relationship with Christ, we will not be in control, but we will have entrusted ourselves to someone who will lead us through our suffering into a joy that will never end.