I have walked this earth a short 39 years, but in that time I have experienced a wide range of trials. When I was a young child, my parents’ financial struggles meant that occasionally the electricity would be shut off and we would have to visit a relative’s home. During my freshman year of college, I was the victim of sexual assault (not rape, thankfully). A few months later my father passed away from his battle with cancer. As a young adult I have experienced four miscarriages, general health issues, and recently the sudden loss of my oldest sister.And yet I can honestly say I am joyful.
Joyful—but not without sorrow.
This Thanksgiving I imagine there are many of you who are wondering how in the world you might rejoice. How can you be thankful in a world full of pain? How can you be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing?
Trials of any kind bring a rush of emotions. The pain is real. The sorrow is real. It’s hard to endure at times. And it’s all but inevitable.
God never once promised this Christian life would be without trouble. In fact, Jesus told us explicitly that we will have tribulation in this life (John 16:33). All we need to do is live long enough, and surely trials will arrive.
So we don’t have to pretend to be without pain this Thanksgiving—or any day of the year. And thankfully we have a Savior who relates to our suffering. Jesus is aware of and acquainted with human grief—my grief and your grief. The God-Man endured both trials and temptation, though he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). He faced agony to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44). He even prayed fervently that his Father would take the cup of suffering away if at all possible.
And yet we know that Jesus willingly drank that cup. He chose to go to the cross, to suffer physical agony and emotional devastation. In his final moments on the cross, Mark records him saying, “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34).
Jesus endured great pain, pain I can only imagine. But his pain was for a purpose—the redemption of the world. He did it on my behalf—and yours.
Our pain, too, has a purpose. The believer knows that there’s a great and glorious purpose in trials. Suffering is designed to purify our faith. Peter comforted the Christians in Asia Minor by reminding them (thus reminding me) of the great purpose of suffering. He writes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire— may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).
Any trial or suffering I endure is a testing of the genuineness of my faith. Charles Spurgeon addresses this in his classic, The Suffering of Man and the Sovereignty of God. Referring to Job, whose genuine faith was tested by extreme suffering. Spurgeon writes, “In what better way can the believer reveal his loyalty to his Lord? He evidently follows his Master, not in fair weather only, but in the foulest and roughest ways.”
The beauty of faith is that it isn’t something I have to come up with on my own. It’s a gift from God! All good things, including the faith to endure trails, comes from him (James 1:17). He graciously grants me faith to trust that he is with me in my days of trouble and will sustain me to the end as he has promised. So though trials may come, I can be confident that he will give me the sustaining grace for them.
And I Rejoice
You and I can rejoice in suffering because we know we have a living hope. We know that our hope will bring us to an eternal glory. You and I will one day rise and be with Christ forever. We can rejoice in suffering today because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5). This is the truth that you and I can easily forget in times of sorrow but that God is good and faithful to remind us of through his Word, his Spirit, and friends who preach it to our hearts and minds.
So though I have experienced various trials—and will no doubt experience more in the future—my hope is in Christ. I can rejoice during these trials in my living hope, knowing that nothing—no great trial, no pain or sorrow, and no one—will separate me from the love of God.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37–39).