“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many” (2 Corinthians 1:9–11).
GREAT DISCOURAGEMENT, AND EVEN DESPAIR, CAN BE THE SOIL IN WHICH DEEP JOY GROWS. If we survive our desperate days (and survive is what we should always choose to do), we can find ourselves afterward having a more responsive heart. Suffering can teach us how to rejoice in a way that is more genuine and true.
Not all joys are created equal. Some are richer and deeper than others. We need the lighter kind, of course, the many casual joys of ordinary living that we should never take for granted. But we also need the more meaningful joys, those that resonate within us at deeper levels. And the deepest joys of this kind are those that we’ve discovered in the midst of despair. These joys have, in a manner of speaking, been bought at a higher price, and they are exceedingly valuable. We all know how much these deeper joys mean to us, yet we often forget that they couldn’t be ours if the price of pain and hardship had not been paid.
Hardships give God an opportunity to show us His grace, and the display of God’s grace gives us an opportunity to pour out our gratitude to Him. Not only that, but when God blesses us, that gives others an occasion for thanksgiving too. So Paul, for example, could say that he was glad for his own deliverance from death because it gave his brethren reason to rejoice: “that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us.”
So we should learn to give thanks for the difficulties that make possible a greater joy. The point is not that we should go looking for pain and suffering, but rather that when these things happen to appear in our lives, we should respond to them rightly. A right response would include, among other things, the attitudes of acceptance and thankfulness. We can be thankful not for the pain but for its result: a heart more joyously fixed on God. Slowly but surely, God is conforming us to His character. Sometimes with pleasure and sometimes with pain, He is teaching us what love is.
“If joy is not rooted in the soil of suffering, it is shallow” (C. F. D. Moule).