Joy and Suffering

To be joyful, we must focus our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord is the source of joy. When we attain Him, and follow Him, then surely we will be very joyful under all circumstances. Without the Lord Jesus Christ we cannot attain true joy. Inner joy and peace are from the Lord. When we are united with Him, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be joyful.

As for suffering, Jesus Christ chose and accepted to be crucified, to die and to be buried for our sake as he carried our sins. This should change our concept of suffering. Suffering became a symbol of love. I love you, therefore I suffer on your behalf. When we suffer and we focus our eyes on our Lord Jesus Christ, we say we share your love. It is a type of dignity, to share the crucification with our Lord. In Galatians 2:30, Saint Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ.” In order to rejoice while we are suffering, we must be united with the crucified one, and to share his suffering, and to accept every suffering as if from the hand of God, or as permitted by God.

Sometimes we cannot find joy because we do not know who we are. We consider ourselves simply one among billions of people without purpose. Saint Jacob of Sarug asks us to consider this; God created the world, with the heavens, skies, and light. He created the sun, the moon and the stars and formed the earth, the waters, the plants and the animals. For whom? God then created man in his image and liking and submitted all creation to him. God created the Garden of Eden, for his creation, Adam and Eve. He made them King and Queen of this world all because of his love. If we discover that God who created us, and even when we disobeyed him, sent his only begotten son to save us, then nothing can remove the inner joy from our hearts and our minds. We have every day to discover who we are, and to consider and realize that we are special in the mind of God. God is interested in me and he is involved in my glorification. It is God the father’s pleasure, that the day of judgment will come, not to judge us, but to invite us to the wedding banquet. The heavenly hosts are waiting for this day, and they long to see us. If we truly focus our eyes on this day, that all of heaven is waiting for us, how can we not become very joyful?

When David as a king was in affliction, he said in Psalm 20:1, “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble,” His eyes were on the king of kings. “May he fulfill all your purpose.” (Psalm 20:4). Jesus’s sacrifice was a sacrifice of obedience to the Father. It was the will of the father and the will of the son to be crucified. Therefore, in affliction, we have to look to the father and say; we accept your will and not ours, even if our will is not in harmony with your will, may your will be done. This is a source of joy, that I am in the world here to fulfill God’s counsel and purpose for me. “We will greatly rejoice in your salvation.” (Psalm 20:5). If we ask Jesus about the crucifixion, he will say it is my pleasure, if we ask the Holy Spirit about the crucifixion he will say it is the source by which I can renew the nature of mankind, and if we ask the father, he will also say it is my pleasure. As for the church, it greatly rejoices in the crucifixion. When we are involved in the crucifixion, we will find a source of joy for us people. The issue is we focus our eyes on our problems, and not on the cross. If we were to focus on the cross instead, we will find no affliction, but a source of joy.

Saint John Chrysostom, said when I am in suffering, what will I expect? I expect that my God has the power to change the nature of my situation. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the three young men who refused to worship his idols into the fiery furnace.

21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers,their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
22 Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
25 “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

Notice that the fire did not stop from burning, but it changed into a comfortable place. The fire’s nature changed to not burn, but instead it became comfortable as a cold dew and a source of joy. The fire was exceedingly hot, and it killed the servants of the king. But as for the young men, the fire did them no harm. The same fire that can be a source of destruction for some, can be for others a source of joy.

When we are in affliction, we have to ask and trust God and say, Lord we believe that your infinite goodness will change everything for our edification, for our joy, and for our rest. According to Saint Augustine, we all know God is very merciful. But who can be in touch with his mercy? The person who enters into afflictions, or who faces troubles, will surely lift up his inner man and tell God, “I am suffering,” to which God will say, do not worry, you will discover how merciful I am. Through suffering we discover the mercy of God. Without suffering we ignore God and we are not in need of him. Even when we pray, we just pray in a routine manner, but when we are suffering, we ask the Lord from all our heart and he will surely grant us joy.

6 Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven With the saving strength of His right hand. 

Sometimes we try to search the mysteries of heaven, or we try to understand the nature of God. Some people try to know God through books and reading, while others will know God’s realty through affliction, temptations, and troubles. Who told David that God “will answer him from His holy heaven,” and that the “strength of his right hand is saving?” David found out through his own affliction and troubles. Without his troubles, we cannot find David as we know him now and without the temptations of Job, we cannot know him as we know him now. We want the easy way; but what comes easy, goes easily. Through trouble and affliction we enjoy the knowledge of God and we stay in touch with him not only with our minds, but also with our hearts and inner man. We can say we saw him, we heard him, and we are in touch with him. 

7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God. 

In the name of the Lord our god, we shall be magnified and glorified. Complaining that we suffer too much is a false complaint. If Joseph did not suffer; if he was not sold as a slave, accused, and thrown in prison, he would not become the second man in all of Egypt. Joseph’s glory is becoming a type of Christ.

When we suffer, in fact, we will attain unspeakable glory and surely our life will be glorified, not only on the last day, but even in this world. Through suffering, the Lord became the first born of the church. As he was risen by his own will, we will also be risen and enjoy the unity with the father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do we seriously want to rejoice?

No one in this world, or in the world to come can rejoice, unless you enjoy the Lord Jesus Christ. Enjoy him dwelling in your heart.

– From a Sermon of Father Tadros Malaty

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