Surprised by joy
By Beverley Russell
23. We are surprised by any joy found in suffering
As science moves forward more of our questions are answered. We become so used to having our every inquiry transformed into an explanation. Questions about the natural are more easily answered these days, but the spiritual questions are never answered, because we are finite. There are two different spheres of knowledge. Only one, the physical, allows us (limited) access. But we want the privileges of the one, to be allowed in the other was well. We want proof, but there is no proof in the supernatural, no logic, no understanding like in the natural. When we are converted and baptised we become part of the spiritual supernatural as well. We are buoyed by our relationship with God. We speak to Him as we speak to our father in the natural world. Yet, when we move into the higher case realm, we express ourselves in the lower case realm.
Christ brought the two worlds together. The “word became flesh”, and then we could also be like Jesus, truly in Him. He dwells in us, in our natural body. The seen world is part of the unseen world and so God abides in our natural body. We are made in “the image of God.” We bear that image, and He enhances that image with His gifts. He decided before creation that any supernatural risk was worth the scoffing of the unbelievers He knew would appear. So “He descended… with gifts”.
CS Lewis said suffering and grief is God’s hiddenness, like a closed door, locked and bolted with, it seems, no one at home. Everyone sooner or later is confronted by it. Those doubts and fears are all valid responses and in anticipating our disappointments, God includes those responses in the Scriptural record of Psalm 22. It seems God understands the cost of sustaining faith in us, and so He gives us the wherewithal to counteract our faithlessness. When Job said, Job 10:16, “look away from me, let me alone that I may take comfort a little … in the shadow of death”, he was grieving about the witnesses who judged him, and in his appeal to God he cries to his tormentors, ”No doubt you are the people and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding and I am not inferior to you…only with him (God) is wisdom and strength hath counsel and understanding”. We also can cry the same way about those who tell lies of us, and He reassures us that He will hear the falsehoods, and our cries. He will be with us in the dark night of the soul for He has promised. He has not abandoned the affliction of the afflicted.
There is another lesson in Job that we can throw anything at God, our anger and our bold insults and He will absorb it all and still support us. Even using unnecessary insurance, like Jacob, in terrible fear, approaching his first meeting with Esau after Haran, He will support us. Wrestling had been a big part of Jacob’s life strategy, and here in his terrible anxiety, Jacob wrestles with God, and he learns the mighty Peniel lesson. He now knows that God is there in the crisis, and so this crisis becomes a turning point in his life. Jacob, now disabled, could no longer wrestle anyone. Psalm 22:14, assures us that God is there for us when “our bones are out of joint”.
The Jacob story deserves its place in Scripture because it is about life and death, and struggle and recognition of sin, and confession and forgiveness, and going forward in faith. These Old Testament stories are about the ultimate questions, they are concerned much less with men and women, but rather with the language of God, and Him superintending it all. He really is the subject, the inner core. People are never important for their own sakes, but always as objects of the divine activity within their lifelong stories. Whether they affirm or deny Him, He is always the inner and most important story. It is His mission that is important, and men and women can be part of that, only if they wish to show by their commitment and then their lives, that they are also friends of God, so that His glory is on show, and His mission mandate is being fulfilled. Looking back, there is the joy in the suffering.