Podcast listener Noah Giles writes in: “Pastor John, you’ve talked a lot about suffering and how to successfully trust God through the trials of life at its hardest. But I also know there have been times in my life when I feel like things are good, and even when I’m living out my faith, the only persecution I might get is when I’m silently judged or given a strange look. Am I doing something wrong when I am happy and content with life, or are there things I should be wary of? If I’m a Christian trying to glorify God, should I ever feel comfortable?”
A Bible Full of Suffering
Well, Noah is right. I have in my life and in my ministry put a lot of emphasis on suffering. And the reason is because of texts like these:
“God’s absolute sovereignty is good news in suffering, not just in easy times.”
- Acts 14:22: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” No question. They are coming.
- 2 Timothy 3:12: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
- Matthew 10:25: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
- 1 Peter 4:12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
- John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Romans 8:17: We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
- Luke 14:27: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
- Hebrews 12:7: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”
And on and on and on the texts go. You can see where I am coming from, and why I would make it such a dominant part of my writing and my speaking over the years. I do see that as God’s calling on my life and somewhat on Desiring God’s life — the ministry. It should help people prepare to suffer like it says in 1 Peter 4:19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” This is what Peter was doing. I think all of 1 Peter is designed to help people get ready to suffer.
Now, when you put as much emphasis on the sovereignty of God as I do, there is a certain burden you feel, at least I feel, to help people understand how this sovereignty is good news in suffering and not just in easy times. So, that is all to say: Yes, Noah is right.
Content in Comfort
However, my answer is that he should find in Scripture a theology of contentment in comfort, as well as contentment in pain. Yes, yes, yes. He should. And if he hasn’t found it, which it doesn’t sound like he has, he should pursue it, and I will try to give a little guideline here.
That is exactly what Paul said in Philippians 4:11–12, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” That would be Noah’s concern: “Can I be okay feeling comfortable?” So go to school here: “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things [both of those] through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13).
So, God does not intend for every moment of our lives to be equally hard. Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Well, if one of them had said, “Hey, aren’t we supposed to suffer? Aren’t we supposed to suffer following you?” I think Jesus would have said, “It will come. It will come. Don’t worry. Go ahead. I am taking you away to enjoy some desert quietness right now. And you will get your chance to suffer.”
Suffering and Joy
Recently Tom Schreiner wrote an article called “Stop and Enjoy the Ordinary.” Let me read a line:
“The Bible teaches both a theology of contentment in comfort, as well as contentment in pain.”
“Ecclesiastes teaches us that life on earth is full of suffering and tragedy.” That is the first half of this little answer. “And yet, at the same time, we are called upon to enjoy everyday life. The call to enjoy life is a persistent theme in Ecclesiastes.” And he lists eight texts. We find these words: “I perceived that there is nothing better for [human beings] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13).
So, the challenge, the great challenge, for all of us is to find a way in our hearts, by the working of the Holy Spirit, to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice, even when they are virtually simultaneous.
No wedding should be ruined by the sorrow of those who attend. And no funeral should be desecrated by silly, humorous talk, as if joy could have no tears. It is not an easy task to find this in our hearts, but it is what we are called to do. This is what I call Noah to discover.