“Joy and the Beauty of Suffering”
written by a member of the class of 2022
Joy: we have all experience it at some point in our lives. Whether it is playing as a kid, or watching your child grow up as an adult, there is a feeling of joy inside every human being. We all want to be joyful, but sometimes do not know how. As Christians, we need to understand what joy is. In order to be a light to the world, we also need to understand why it is important. Lastly, even in the midst of pain and suffering, Christians need to remember how to be joyful in their sorrow.
When I was six years old, my family got a Nintendo Wii. This gaming console was the pinnacle of joy for my childhood. Every time I got back home from school, sports, or even church, the only thing that was on my mind was the Wii. I could either play by myself, or have my brothers join me in my happiness. My biggest fear would be my parents coming downstairs and telling me I had to go to bed.
Perhaps one of my greatest memories I have as a child was on a Christmas Eve one year. In the evening, we went out for dinner with my extended family and came home around seven. With the anticipation of Christmas occurring the next morning, I was eager to shower, brush my teeth, and get to bed. Since it was not too late, my family played some games and talked to each other to end the night, but it felt like the end never came. Soon enough, it was eleven, which was late for me at the time, and my parents went to bed. My brothers continued playing and talking so I just decided to join them. It eventually hit one in the morning, which was the latest I had ever stayed up. Around this time, my brothers stopped what they were doing and turned on the Wii, and I thought they were insane. It was already late enough, and they just moved onto another activity. I was so confused and in shock, so I joined them, and we continued to play through the night, having more fun than we had ever had before. This has remained a core memory ever since because of the immense joy and happiness I felt back then. I got to stay up late and play video games, there was not much else my past self could ask for to make a perfect day. It got even later, and things became pretty clear to me that my brothers had no intention of going to bed, so neither did I. Around eight in the morning, my dad walked downstairs to see the four of us playing video games and I think he understood that we never went to sleep. He was shocked, but then laughed it off and soon after that my mom joined in, so we had our family Christmas.
Of course, I was only a child, but this showed the deep desire for material happiness and hedonistic values I had. All I wanted was to have fun with no consequences or repercussion. As I grew up, I realized that there is a lot more to life than just having fun. When reminiscing of these times I began to wonder if what I experienced as a child was truly joy. Since God was not directly present in those memories, can they truly be happy?
Before anything else, we should first understand what joy is. There are two types of joy: one defined by society and the other defined by God. These two types tend to contradict each other so there must be only one that is true joy, and one that is a fake ideology used to fill an empty void. Merriam-Webster defines joy as “a feeling of great happiness.” While this is not technically a false definition, a much deeper meaning can be pulled from the Bible. Throughout the Old Testament, there are many cases in which joy is expressed. Marriage, childbirth, harvest, military victory, and feasts are situations where God expressed his blessing of joy to his creation (Orr). Joy is a word that is difficult to define because it can be so relative. Different people can experience it in so many different ways; however, it is worth mentioning that joy can also be supernatural. The Bible states, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (King James Version, Luke 15:10). This verse tells us that when a sinner converts, he is not the only joyful being celebrating, but has a host of angels with him. In the end, the meaning of joy really depends on the person. Joy can be expressed in many different ways but in every joyful situation there is a deep expression of a spiritual happiness with God. Our idea of joy should always revolve around God and involve him in some way.
We also have to consider that term ‘happiness’, and its role in the topic. While many people like to say that joy is something completely different than happiness, they need to understand that these words are similar in meaning. Esteemed author, Randy Alcorn, lists common misconceptions of the term ‘joy’, which many Christians foolishly believe to be true:
Joy is something entirely different from happiness. Joy, in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. . .. Joy brings us peace in the middle of a storm. Joy is something that God deposits into us through the Holy Spirit. . .. There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion and temporary; joy is an attitude of the heart. (Alcorn)
As I said, these are false beliefs which many people think is true. Alcorn says, “Depicting joy in contrast with happiness has obscured the true meaning of both words. Joyful people are typically glad, and cheerful-they smile and laugh a lot. To put it plainly, they’re happy!” From these words we know that joy and happiness should never be considered two different things, but that they can be used together. The word happiness is broader and more familiar term. It also covers more ground and applies to more situations. While secular happiness is certainly far from joy, Godly happiness can almost be used interchangeably. John Piper says. “If you have nice little categories for ‘joy is what Christians have’ and ‘happiness is what the world has,’ you can scrap those when you go to the Bible, because the Bible is indiscriminate in its uses of the language of happiness and joy contentment and satisfaction.” What Piper means by this is that the Bible often will use joy and happiness in the same sentences to complement each other. Thus, the notion that joy and happiness are completely unrelated is completely nonsense and should be abolished.
The Bible often uses parallelism to reinforce meaning, and there are plenty of verses that reinforce that idea (Alcorn). Each translation will have its own way of depicting scripture’s meaning, but they all show that joy and happiness are two similar ideas that complement each other to strengthen the meaning of God’s word. “Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy” (New Living Translation, Isa. 65.18). Here, we see that God uses both happiness and joy to describe Jerusalem. The next verse comes from God’s Word Translation in Deuteronomy 28:48, “You didn’t serve the Lord your God with a joyful and happy heart when you had so much.” Some believe that happiness is in the mind and joy is in the heart, but in these words, God uses ‘joyful’ and ‘happy’ interchangeably when describing the heart. This proves that the heart is not only a place for joy, but a place for happiness as well. Once again, the false belief that joy and happiness contrast each other should be strictly avoided.
Moving onto the final verse, perhaps the most popular translation, New International Version, gives us Esther 8:16, “For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor.” This piece of scripture is stating that not only are happiness and joy interchangeable, but gladness and honor as well. While joy is a great word to use, there are many other equally effective words that display a similar meaning. Such words include happiness, gladness, merriment, delight, and pleasure (Alcorn). By no means do these words have the same meaning, but depending on the situation, they can be substituted for each other.
For most of this paper, I have been referencing Christian joy compared to Christian happiness. Before we go any further, an important distinction needs to be made between Christian and worldly happiness. The main difference between these two ideas stems from where the person places their values. Many non-believers seek happiness from themselves and in the world. This could be shown through sports, movies, food/drink, etc. While some of things in moderation are not harmful, today’s society has twisted the meaning of true happiness and it often results in sins. Lust, gluttony, and pride are just a few ways humans attempt to achieve happiness but do not realize that these are just temporary satisfactions. Others try to be happy by endlessly purchasing items and forever struggling to fill the empty void in their heart; when in reality, Christ is the only way to true happiness and joy. In his book, Alcorn says, “My worst days as a believer seemed better than my best days before know Christ” As a believer, you do not have to try and be happy, you just simply will be happy. No amount of wealth nor power can compare to the treasure you receive when you are in Christ. In fact, Matthew 16:26 says, “What good is it for a person to gain the whole world and forfeit the soul? What can one give in exchange for their soul?” If people continue to reject Christ, then they will eternally crave more. A clear example of this is seen with celebrities. They have all the money and fame a man could want, yet they still seek happiness because earthly objects have no spiritual value. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” By this, God is explaining that if a man wants true satisfaction, happiness, and joy, then he must desire God. So, while happiness in the world may consist of sin, happiness in God is the complete opposite.
An article by David Murray lists out many examples of how Christians can recognize the beauty in life and happily celebrate.
God is our perfect Father.
We know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
The Holy Spirit is sanctifying and empowering us.
Our sins are forgiven.
God lives in our hearts.
We are justified and adopted into God's world-wide and heaven-wide family.
Everything is working together for our good.
God is our guard and guide.
We have all the promise of God
Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven and will welcome us there. (Murray)
He then goes on to summarize the article with, “Christian happiness is the grace of loving and being loved by Jesus who gave his life for me.” An important verse to keep in mind on the journey to spiritual happiness is John 15:18, “If the world hates
you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” It can be crucial to remember that the path to eternal salvation was never promised to be an easy one. Everyone wants to be happy, but happiness is something people need to understand how to obtain before they attempt to acquire it by themselves.
Now that it has been determined what joy is, we can move on to why it is important to Christians. Followers of Christ are lighthouses to the world. We are the beacon that shines and stands out in society. To set a proper example, we need to be (along with many other things) joyful. If a boat is stranded at sea, it needs a light to guide it back to shore. Christians need to be that light but how are we supposed to lead stranded boats when our light is dark and gloomy. A joyful heart can achieve miraculous things and the faster Christians understand that the better. Another reason why joy is a crucial point to a Christian’s life is that it aligns our priorities with God’s. We cannot base our perception of joy on cultural and social values.
Especially when these ‘values’ seek temporary happiness and typically involve indulging which will have no beneficial impact on our lives. God wants us to be happy and Isaiah 61:60 says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” As Christians, we need to regularly check our hearts to ensure that our priorities lie with God; because only then can we experience joy.
Along with this, the Bible also says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.19-20). Thus, God has commanded us to rejoice and celebrate Him for the blessings he has bestowed upon us, and He has also commanded us to go out and spread His name. As Christians, it is our duty to venture into the world and become the guiding light for the lost ships at sea.
As beacons of light, Christians need to be joyful themselves if they are to make others joyful. Throughout the Bible, God describes Christians as happy because he wants us to be happy; however, due to thousands of years of being translated into different languages, the Bible does not always use the exact words in English. Ifsomeone reads the Bible without seeing a frequent use of ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’, they might just assume that those concepts are not as relevant. The word blessed is used quite often and can sometimes act as a substitute for happiness. Matthew 5:3-10 states,
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Now that God’s plan has for us to be happy has been stated, there is one last step in becoming joyful Christians: finding joy. Specifically, finding joy when it seems impossible. Grief and suffering will come to everyone, but it is important to know that we can be joyful in the midst of suffering. There is only one way to accomplish this and that is with the power of God; without him, there is no joy or happiness.
Just like most things, in order to endure grief properly, we must first understand what it is. Grief is a form of deep sadness or sorrow that is usually in response to the loss of something or someone. For example, many people experience grief when they lose a job. It can also be experienced during separation. When couples split up, they most likely will experience some sort of sadness. Or when parents send their child to college, there is uniquely tears of sadness and joy at the same time. A definition from Nick Wignall sums the thought up pretty well. “In short, grief doesn’t have to be about death, and it doesn’t have to involve another person. It doesn’t even have to be “big” or even what most people would consider significant. If you lose something that’s valuable to you, it’s a natural to experience grief.”
The world is sinful, and many people indulge in sin to cope with their grief. This takes many different forms depending on the person, but it will normally consist of alcohol, drugs, lust, and/or gluttony. Obviously, these actually end up becoming harmful and can destroy relationships and lives. As stated earlier, God is truly the only answer for grief and sadness. A good source of comfort is found in the Bible; for example, consider Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Along with this, there are countless of other verses such as Matthew 5:12-15:
Of course, grief can take many forms and can occur for many reasons. As stated early, distinctions must be made in order to tackle grief. Pastor Smith’s article was a guide to defeating sinful grief, but there is another, and arguably more popular grief that comes from loss. This could be the loss of a precious item, the loss of opportunity, or the loss of a family member. There are different levels to each grief, but they should all be handled relatively the same way: overcoming it and finding joy.
In August of 2021, I experienced a loss that shook my entire world. I lost my grandpa to Parkinson’s disease and life was a struggle. I had to balance school, work, and grief in the time after his death. However, in the midst of it all, I managed to find peace. I had to keep my mind on the positive sides of the situation and reflect of the fond memories with my grandfather. Of course, grief hits people differently, and people react differently. My grandma would bring up the joyful and happy moments that the family experienced with my grandfather. My mom would bring up comforting scripture verses. Each family member brought a unique element that helped everyone cope with the pain. The thing that helped me the most was hope. I had hope that things would get better, and sure enough they did. Thus, while the whole family acted differently on their grief, they all seemed to strive for joy. Dr. Joe Raphael talks about this topic in an article he wrote: "Grief. Such a small, simple word for one of the most complex human experiences. When you lose a loved one, your world shrinks to that pain. How can life go on?” He goes on to outline eight key components to remember when mourning a loss. Along with this, he adds Bible verses to back up each point he states.
The first point tells us that God is our strength. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Grief can make us feel weak, which can cause us to struggle in our everyday life; but if we remember that our strength comes from God, we can endure anything. The secondpoint is that God is our light. “There’s nothing like the loss of a loved one. It truly is as if a light had been snuffed out, and no matter what else is going on in your life, all you can see around you is darkness” (Raphael). The Bible verse he uses for this section is Psalms 73:26 which states, “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Point three is that God promises to remain. “My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life (Psalm 119:50).” Suffering will come,
and we will be forced to walk through it. It will not be easy, but eventually we will have to face our grief in this fallen world. Knowing that God is with us is the easiest way to make it through the pain. The fourth point is that God renews. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).” When we are weak, God is our only option. No matter how much we have sinned, no matter how much we have strayed away, God is with us. Sometimes we feel lost and have no hope. A great way to fix this is by community. Interact with brothers and sisters in Christ and they will help you stay on the right path (Raphael). The fifth point is that God cares. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants (Psalm 116:15).” It may be weird to think of death as a good thing, but this is actually one of the most useful things a person can do to make it through their suffering. It goes along with the hope that you can see them again one day. God promises us that the death of a believer is a good thing and is precious in His eyes (Raphael).
The first five point of Raphael’s article have been for comfort, and the next three revolve around a solution to our grief. Point six states that God also promises a future, “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7:17).” This verse may sound confusing but is simple in reality. Jesus is both the lamb and shepherd; he was the lamb who was sacrificed for our sins but is also the shepherd who guides us to the eternal life. There other part of the verse is simply explaining how God is the father figure in our lives and how he wipes tears from our eyes. The seventh point is that God gives us joy and peace. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).” The final point is that God’s love remains. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-40).
While death separates us from people here on earth, it will not separate us from God’s love. Because no matter what we do, he will still love us. When we grieve, we have a choice: try to full the void with worldly cures, or godly cures. On some level, these manmade cures can be harmless or even helpful; but there are many that can easily turn into an addiction that can ruin lives. Meanwhile, these spiritual cures are gifts from God which are flawless and effective. He gives us countless number of resources to use when we feel hopeless or depressed. Dr. Joe Raphael has more advice on the topic: “When you’re grieving or suffering, it can be tempting to fill the emptiness with distractions to numb the pain. Instead, feel the pain and let yourself experience the grief, but then reach out for what’s true. Go to God’s Word to find comforting Bible verses for death. God has not left you alone.” One thing to keep in mind is that grief is not exactly a bad thing. It can lead people to sin, but at its core, grief is just another emotion we have. Jesus felt grief and wept when Lazarus died. Whatever happens, we should do our best to go to God’s word. He is the best solution that we can reach out to when we are feeling down.
Merriam Webster defines grief in one way as deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death. Grief may be the loss of a loved one, or it could be the loss of a pet, job, or friendship. Grief does not have to be exclusive to the death of a loved one. In many ways, grief works like joy. It is completely up to the person on how they experience grief, and how they overcome it. Jesus understood grief; He expressed it as He wept when Lazarus died. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 explains how God has a plan, and while me might not understand it, we should be willing and accepting of it.
For everything, there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.
Christians are never told they will have an easy and painless life. However, we are promised a gift of eternal life. At one point, Jesus is teaching his disciples this message in John 16:20. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” The path of a Christian is full of hardships and suffering, but the gift of eternal life is well worth it in the end. Thus, however we deal with the pain, whether it is with Raphael’s eight points or completely on completely relying on the Bible, no matter what we should put our trust in God through our dark times.
Once Christians understand joy, they can differentiate the difference between enjoying and indulging. Of course, that is important because if they plunge into indulgence, grief is sure to follow. Without joy, Christians cannot grieve properly or Godly; if Christians are joyless, then the world becomes joyless, and we have failed in our mission. If there was a way to go back and relive those moments as a child, I would definitely do it, even the painful memories. However, the question from earlier still remains: is playing as a child experiencing true joy? After learning about the definition of joy, some may say no. They would say this because there is nothing inherently Godly about playing a video game. Digitally swinging a tennis racket or throwing a baseball in a game does not exactly show the goodness of God. But one thing to remember is that God wants us to be happy. Would there be joy in reading the Bible for ten hours each day? Perhaps for some, but a majority of people would find it wearisome and laborious. Since God wants us to be joyful, when we experience happiness from worldly entertainment, it makes God happy as well. As long as these entertainments do not become idols, then God is perfectly fine with an innocent child playing. There is a fine line between living life with worldly pleasures and Godly pleasures. When Christians can determine that line, then, and only then, can they experience true joy.