Why We Can Choose Joy Amid Suffering
We choose to keep rejoicing because we know that in the end, joy wins.
In dealing with the worst life brings — sickness, injustice, social upheaval, economic struggle, relationship problems, death — we tend to do one of two things, neither of which is right. We either stubbornly wallow in negative emotions or we desperately chase positive ones. Both cost us the view of life and eternity we’re supposed to hold.
Moreover, neither of these approaches actually deals with anything. They allow us to avoid fully dealing with life in its complex entirety. They rob us of the necessity to experience sorrow in a painful but redemptive way. They rob us of knowing joy to its full extent.
Lament That Leads Somewhere Better
The first step to dealing with the worst things in life is to not ignore them, but to lament.
Lament is something many Christians are uncomfortable with, even though it’s completely biblical. “The Bible is filled with the language of lament,” Chelsea Patterson Sobolik writes in her book Longing For Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, in which she examines what it means to suffer while trusting God. “Our spiritual forefathers were well acquainted with grief, death, pain, and sorrow. They knew what it means to cry out, to wrestle, and to bring their raw and unfiltered pain to the Lord.”
Lament, biblically speaking, is neither embracing despair (defined as “utter loss of hope”) nor skimming over sorrow in pursuit of happier circumstances. It’s mourning. Mourning the sin, the evil, that brought about the broken world in which we live. Feeling the specific pain of it in our own lives. Knowing full well that this is not how it’s supposed to be. Questioning why it is this way.
Times of lament can feel soul-crushing. And no one can survive that. “A man’s spirit will endure sickness,” Proverbs 18:14 states, “but a crushed spirit who can bear?”
Choosing Joy in a Broken World
Unlike bitterness, biblical lament doesn’t keep our crushed souls trapped in brokenness. Even at the lowest point of our pain, biblical lament retains hope in the Lord — the Lord who is with us in those depths. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” Psalm 34:18 says. The Bible shows us that lament is normal and healthy, yet it offers a way forward.
“Weeping may tarry for a night,” Psalm 30:5 says, “but joy comes with the morning.” We know that the ultimate morning will be found in God’s presence when night shall be no more. In the meantime, God still tells us to choose joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice,” Paul writes in Philippians 4:4 (emphasis mine).
How can we do that? The Bible also says to give thanks — in all things, even in suffering. Research shows people who are thankful are happier. God knew what he was telling us. Other things the Bible encourages us to do, like showing kindness, are also proven to foster joy in our lives. But is this the same trivial game as chasing positivity? Not unless we leave God out of it.
A godless outlook will agree that being thankful and kind boosts happiness. It will agree that we ought to look for the good in the world. But in this outlook, sorrow and happiness, evil and goodness are battling it out and it’s up to us to choose what we’ll focus on more, or what we’ll “believe in” more. The cynics choose to focus on what they see as “reality.” Others chase happiness but know deep down it’s shallow and fleeting, which is why it must be chased.
The Christian view is different. We know that though sin ravages the world at present, God’s victory is at hand. Goodness, beauty, and happiness are not the flip side of the coin, but glimpses into the reality to come. We lament deeply because we know the extent to which the suffering in this world is wrong, and we hate the way it hurts us and our fellow man. But in our lament we hope. We choose gratefulness. We choose to love others. We choose to keep rejoicing because we know that in the end, joy wins.
And that’s why even in the midst of suffering — even while we lament what’s broken in the world and in our lives — our joy can be steadfast. It isn’t a puddle that will dry up with the next trial. It’s rooted in the eternal hope of our God, in a future made sweeter by what we have endured.