I have a New Year’s greeting for all my friends—one I know they will not receive from anyone else:
In this coming year may you have as much joy, prosperity and happiness as you can contain, and may you have only enough trouble to produce in you the quality of life God desires.
That may sound like a curse instead of a blessing, but it’s not. I want 1987 to be the best year you have ever had, but my greeting stems from the recognition of what it takes to make a truly good life. Others who do not recognize that truth would wish you a year totally devoid of even one sorrowful moment, or that you would never experience anything that might cause you alarm. My prayer for you for 1987 is different.
I am trying to bless you according to the biblical understanding of life. The Bible teaches that our present life, out of necessity, must include some trouble and sorrow. That’s right—trouble is necessary! It is essential for the development of character. To ignore that fact leaves us unprepared and ill-equipped to confront the real world. That real world contains more pain than pleasure, more sickness than health and more poverty than prosperity. Only the childishly minded can hope to avoid the soul-racking pain of normal, everyday reality, but beyond this regular reality lies a greater reality. I call it redemptive reality.
In order to recognize that redemptive reality, we must lift our vision above the earthly horizon to the heavenly horizon. Redemptive reality does not minimize the fact of painful human existence. Redemptive reality gives meaning to the pain we suffer.
Think of the words of Yeshua to his followers: In the world ye shall have tribulation [troubles]: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Surely the disciples must have been confounded by the fact that although Jesus was perfection personified, earthly existence for them—and for him—seemed as bad as ever. The ameliorating aspect of Yeshua’s statement—the balm for that painful prediction—lies in that last phrase: “…be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” If he is in us and we are in him, we can be optimistic. We can even be cheerful. Though we are undergoing the pain of a present battle, Yeshua has already won the war! In him we are eventually and ultimately winners. In him we cannot lose, although we may suffer setbacks and incur casualties. So why worry over a war that we have already won?
We worry and fret because no one likes pain; yet pain seems to be the way of this life. But what if there were no pain? That would be dangerous. We see this in the physical realm. Some illnesses do not cause pain. They actually keep a person from feeling pain, and that is what makes them so dangerous. Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy, is one of those illnesses. Most of us have a mental image of a leper. The victim has stumpy, fingerless hands and hobbles about on feet with missing toes or, even more grotesque, has a face without a nose. But leprosy itself does not cause those terrible disfigurements. Leprosy damages the nervous system, depriving a person of the sensation of pain. Lepers lose fingers, toes and noses because they feel no pain in those extremities when they are damaged by fire, infection or fracture. They do not react to dangers that can destroy tissue. Physical pain is a God-given warning to prevent such damage.
In much the same way, the pain and suffering of this life can work for our good. Life’s sorrows can produce the resolve and repentance that enable us to turn from the soul-deadening effects of living in our godless society. The pain of sorrow is often the warning signal that redemptive reality beckons. It calls upon us to transcend our surface existence, to rise above our present circumstances and to set our hearts on that which is above.
Conversely, happy events can work as an anesthetic. They can serve to fix us in our present circumstances to the point where we lack motivation to seek the higher life. Too many believers are complacent when things are going well. They become satisfied with what they have and what they can get out of this world—until some tragedy strikes. Then the pain reminds them of the transitory nature of this temporal life.
The spiritually-minded believer knows that this life is only the process that will bring us to our eternal destiny. If we know that we are here temporarily for the purpose of accomplishing God’s will, we can be comforted by life’s pain rather than confounded by it. We are in a transitory state that ultimately will lead us to perfection. That process is outlined in Romans 5, which tells us that we ought to rejoice (“glory”) in troubles.
At the outset that certainly sounds illogical. Trouble causes despair. To rejoice in trouble seems a direct reversal of what appears to be an appropriate and acceptable reaction. But Paul goes on to explain that we glory in troubles because they produce patience. Then patience enables us to endure, so we can perceive the true meaning of life and experience redemptive reality. The knowledge of redemptive reality gives us reason to hope, so that the adverse events of this life will not devastate us. Even in adversity we perceive and receive the love of God through Christ. Trouble produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and the strengthening of our character enables us to grasp hope and utilize it to see into eternity itself. That knowledge of eternity with God brings security. His love fills our hearts, and we experience joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Pain is part of God’s perfecting process. Its purpose is not to defeat us, but to enable us to move forward. Trouble’s darkness that envelopes like fog does not come to bewilder, but to enable us to see the beacon of God’s love. It functions as a directional beam that enables us to move ahead in safety. The darkness of sorrow makes the yielded believer bright—a contrasting ray of God’s redemptive reality.
None of us knows what troubles we will encounter next week, next month or during the coming year. It’s a good thing that we do not. If we were seers and had absolute knowledge of impending sorrows and the troublous events that lay ahead, we might live with such a sense of dread that we would not see that joys also awaited us. The certain knowledge of both the pain and the good would probably prevent us from enjoying the good.
God has promised that he will not allow any trial or temptation that is beyond our ability to endure, but will provide the means for us to bear the trial, to pass the test, whatever it may be (I Corinthians 10:13). God allows us to encounter troubles to make us strong. He is not trying to make us victims of our own sin, or victims of the sinful world around us. It is the victimization of Yeshua at Calvary that enables us who believe to be victors—now in this present life and for all eternity.
As we encounter troubles, it is enough to know that those trials serve the purpose of perfecting or completing our characters, enabling us to live in the realm of redemptive reality. Every knock can be the impetus or impulse for a boost upward or a plunge into despair. It depends on whether we are headed up or down. If our gaze is upward, toward God, he will propel us upward through every circumstance.
So then, rather than a trouble-free existence in 1987, I wish for my friends something more: the grinding, the polishing, the perfecting and the upward propelling of our heavenly Father. May you receive from his caring hand all that you need to make you more beautiful in his sight and to cause you to shine as the stars of heaven, a beacon of God’s love and grace to those around you.