Joy and suffering. Joy in the midst of suffering.
This is the theme we’re asking the Lord to speak to us about and through us over the next couple of months. I don’t find it an easy one to think about, let alone properly engage with. I have to gratefully add that I don’t pretend to be able to really relate to serious suffering, at least not at this point of my life. Even as I write that statement, I realise that this is likely to change at some point. Not because I’m pessimistic, or because I doubt God’s grace, favour and protection over me and my family, but because I have come to realise that both joy and suffering are something the Lord has packaged into this gift which we are all temporarily holding – life on Earth.
Joy is a tough word to define. It’s that feeling, a mixture of sheer bliss, anticipatory excitement and deep, nostalgic longing all at the same time. But maybe better to just keep it beautifully undefined, because you know what it is at a very personal level. In his book Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis wrote “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted (real joy) would ever… exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”
Suffering and mourning are similarly difficult to grasp and understand. But they are certainly not unfitting for this season we are in right now – lent and Easter, the all-too-numerous tragic stories coming out about fallen leaders and the cracking landscape around many of us currently.
Recently our team has been spending time rediscovering the Beattitudes. Blessed (spiritually joyful, divinely favoured, deeply satisfied) are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. What is our Lord trying to teach us with this sort of seemingly incongruous statement?
No one takes away joy that God provides.
Tim Keller (pastor and author currently fighting serious pancreatic cancer) writes “There is a joy available that the deepest grief cannot put out. No circumstance or person can take away the joy God gives.” Perhaps he’s talking about the same thing.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (suffering)… He prepares a table for me…” The Psalmist also gives us a beautiful picture of this spiritual secret that many of you will have already discovered – that there is a table to feast from in the midst of the valley, prepared specially by our Father. He sets it before us and invites us, but I believe we still have to be brave and faith-filled enough to eat from it.
Joy in the midst of suffering.
May we all experience this Easter and Passover time as one in which we are able to truly feast at His table –illuminated with His gift of joy in the midst of whatever else is going on around and within you.