Sunday, July 24, 2011

Suffering and Joy

Recently I heard a Christian woman talking about how she was amazed that her friend, even though going through a very difficult time in her life, was praising God for everything, and very happy. “I don’t know how she does it,” the Christian woman replied. “When I am suffering, the last thing I feel is ‘joyful’, and I can’t go around smiling.”
I’m not sure where we got the idea that praising God and being happy, or joyful, were equal identities. I have often heard Christians express the idea that if we are not happy and joyful all the time, obviously we are not trusting God.  A close look at the various characters of the Bible make it plain that we can praise God and not be joyful.
After Job received all the various messages about his losses (Job 1:13-19), the Scripture says “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground before God. He said “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
In this passage we see Job experiencing  the normal emotion of suffering—grief –which he expressed even physically by tearing his robe, shaving his head, and falling to the ground.  But he also verbally praised the Lord. This is a perfect example of praising God even while feeling negative emotions. 
In the Psalms, David often expressed verbally his negative emotions, and then praised God. Psalm 69 is a great example of this. David speaks for 32 verses expressing mostly negative emotions, and then in verse 34 says “Praise him, O heaven and earth, the seas and all that move in them.” 

Although joy is a fruit of the spirit, we may not have a complete understanding of what it means to experience joy and express joy. We know Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t see any hint of what we would define as “joy” in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew it was ok to feel those negative emotions that were consistent with what He was experiencing. That is true integrity.
I don’t believe God expects us to be happy in the midst of our suffering. But I do believe He expects us to praise Him—to acknowledge who He is and to declare that to others.  Many Christians feel a sense of guilt because they are not able to feel “happy” or “joyful” during suffering.  We can relieve at least some of their suffering by helping them realize it is biblical to feel sadness, sorrow, and other negative emotions in the midst of suffering, and that it is possible to praise God without feeling “happy.”

No comments:

Post a Comment