Faith: Expectations, pain, and what we are intended to endure
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
So reads Isaiah 53:3. “He” is the Savior of the world.
Sometimes, I wonder if our expectations of joy can get in the way of our actual happiness.
Here are several promises the Lord never made:
- Follow me and I will make sure your life is simple.
- Faith will make all your dreams come true.
- What you want out of life is guaranteed you if you will choose God over man.
None of those suppositions are supported by scripture. Here are several promises the Lord has, in fact, made to His followers:
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- “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations, for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9)
- “…They shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.” (Mark 13:9)
- “In the world, ye shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33)
There is little question following Christ is a strait and narrow path, besotted on all sides with trials, pain and temptations. So why do we expect any different? And why do we deepen our sorrow when we feel pain with concerns our faith is not strong enough, or, worse, we have been somehow abandoned by our Father in Heaven?
Christ Himself was called to be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
Why should we in our discipleship intend to be any different?
Acquaintance with grief is not evidence of our own failure; it’s not proof we are loved less of the Lord than our seemingly blissful neighbor. (Nor, it should be noted, is our occasional bliss evidence of the Lord’s greater love for us than that which He has for our less-fortunate neighbor.)
Yes, sorrow can follow sin, but it is Godly sorrow, not the sorrow of the world. Depression and grief are not retribution for our mistakes. They weren’t for the perfect Christ, surely, so why should we think they are for us?
But there is hope — of course there is.
The scripture quoted earlier, a portion of John 16:33, is spoken by Jesus at the close of His sublime sermon in the Upper Room just hours before the end of His mortal life. The rest of the verse is instructive.
“In the world, ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus said. “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
What a majestic statement of His great gift to us. After the atonement itself, perhaps the finest bestowal of the mortal Christ upon humanity was His perfect guidance on how to navigate this intentionally challenging world.
From the moment Adam and Eve left the garden, trial was on the menu for humanity. I believe this was God’s plan from the beginning, as without opposition, how would we ever gain strength? Without sorrow, how can we truly know joy?
So perhaps our expectations — and our gratitude — need an adjustment.
When we offer prayers of thanks, do we thank God for our earthly attainments? Do we give thanks for our generous living space, the trappings of our comfortable lives or the relative prosperity of our country of origin? If we do, do we insinuate these “blessings” are given us while being withheld from so many others by God’s own preference for our lives over theirs? Do we really believe that? Does scripture support that idea?
And, in direct converse to that supposition, when we count our sorrows, do we consider trials, pains and disappointments as evidence we are less loved or blessed less by a loving Father in Heaven than those whom we see with more?
I reject both notions outright. I’d suggest God blesses us with both trials and successes; with both apparently good and apparently bad, and He does not actively “bless” us with the worldly acquisitions for which we are often so readily grateful. For Christ’s great trials were hardly evidence of His lack of favor with God, His Father, and so why should ours be?
Ask yourself this: What does God want most for you? What has He shown you — or promised you — is His will for your life?
Do you want the same things for yourself that He does?
When you do, I’d submit you will find something far greater than simple temporal joy.
After all, when you read about Christ in the Bible, do you read about a man whose life was largely joyful? I don’t. And so I’m not certain I should expect — or even want — a life like that for myself.
But I’d suggest it is when your will aligns with that of the Divine — whether that entails sorrow or joy or, hopefully, both — that is when you will find peace.
Cuyler Meade is the editor of the Craig Press, but this column represents his personal religious beliefs and not necessarily the opinions of the newspaper.
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Psalms 127:1: Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. (NIV)