Joy and Sorrow
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
—1 Peter 1:6-9
I LOVE to run! I’m not entirely sure why. Yet, for some peculiar reason, I’ve developed the desire to pursue an activity that is quite frequently accompanied by painful knees and strained ankle ligaments. However, the undeniable joy I receive after I’ve run to the top of a peak on a trail in the Rockies—while gasping for the limited oxygen available at 10,000 feet—may possibly rate second to only the inexpressible joy God’s promised me as the end result of my faith. Trail running is indubitably jubilant.
I’m currently reading a truly inspiring book: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by journalist Christopher McDougall. In Born to Run, McDougall investigates the Mexican Tarahumara Indians who seem to possess the ability to run hundreds of miles without injury. In Colorado’s famous Leadville Trail 100 Run—where runners run 100 uninterrupted miles across the rugged Colorado terrain at elevations ranging from 9200 to 12,600 feet—two Tarahumara runners had just passed the 60-mile checkpoint and were witnessed smiling and laughing as they ran up a steep dirt ramp. McDougall wrote the following about the event:
“‘Everybody else walks that hill,’ Chlouber thought, as Juan and Martimano churned up the slope like kids playing in a leaf pile. ‘Everybody.’
‘Such a sense of joy!’ marveled Coach Vigil, who’d never seen anything like it, either. ‘It was quite remarkable.’ Glee and determination are usually antagonistic emotions, yet the Tarahumara were brimming with both at once, as if running to the death made them feel more alive.”
A friend of mine recently posted the following quote on Facebook:
“If joy does not arise out of the midst of tragedy, it will not arise at all…Separate joy from sorrow and there’s nothing left.
As we journey toward spiritual maturity, one of the greatest realizations is that transformation, embracing God’s purpose, and ultimately pure joy quite often—if not always—simultaneously and antagonistically accompany pain, tragedy, sorrow, suffering, persecution and difficulty. Success is never void of struggle. In Your Best Life Now, Joel Osteen writes, “No matter how successful we are, we all face challenges, struggles, and times when things don’t go our way. Understand that God has a divine purpose for every challenge that comes into our lives.”
Due to Jacob’s odd, yet successful experiment with genetic engineering, Laban and his sons became hostile toward Jacob. Under direct orders from God, Jacob packed up his family and began his journey back to his native land. Before leaving, Rachel decided to steal her father’s household gods. Knowing that God was blessing him through Jacob and not wanting to lose that blessing, Laban pursued Jacob under the guise that he wanted to give his family a proper send-off as well as retrieve his stolen gods.
Rachel hid the stolen gods in her camel’s saddle, sat on the saddle, and then claimed that it was her personal time in order to deter her father from searching the saddle. Fearing he would become unclean and impure, Laban refused to search the saddle (Leviticus 15:19-23) and came up empty-handed. Feeling falsely accused, Jacob defended himself:
“I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”
For twenty years, Jacob suffered at the hands of his father-in-law. Nonetheless, in the midst of that suffering, God was present…blessing Jacob from behind the scenes. Jacob’s success wasn’t entirely obvious. To most, it would’ve appeared that Laban was the successful one, and Jacob was suffering continual hardship and persecution. This misconception explains why Rachel felt it was necessary to steal the very gods that appeared to bless her father. Laban knew that Jacob was his lucky charm, but nobody else did.
Jacob was beginning to realize that God’s good, pleasing and perfect plan often comes to fruition through painful experiences and hardships. When we encounter hardships, we often rebuke the God to whom we’ve placed our trust. We turn to other sources to provide for us; we turn to our household gods…to our money, our possessions, our relationships, and our career successes, and we look to them for our blessings and our joys because God doesn’t seem to care.
Like Laban’s household gods concealed in Rachel’s saddle, our false gods fall short because they are unclean and impure; they’re not the righteous Almighty God. God has a good, pleasing and perfect plan for our lives…even if that good plan simultaneously and antagonistically accompanies pain and suffering. Unfortunately, spiritual maturity often—if not always—is the fruit of despair. Jacob knew that God was blessing him through twenty years of hardship. Transformation occurs when we renew our mind to recognize that joy paradoxically accompanies sorrow.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”