Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.
By Randy Alcorn
God never guarantees that the Christian life will be smooth or easy. In fact, he promises the opposite: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12, NKJV). We’re not to be surprised when we face great difficulties (see 1 Peter 4:12).
All the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and many other Scripture passages reveal the importance of realism and sorrow in the Christian life. No treatment of joy and happiness should deny or minimize such texts.
Indeed, a truly biblical worldview and an authentic doctrine of joy and happiness fully recognize and embrace the realities of suffering in this present age.
The happiness described in Scripture is all the richer because it doesn’t involve denial or pretense and can be experienced amid severe difficulty. Christ-followers don’t preach the flimsy kind of happiness that’s built on wishful thinking. Instead, our basis for happiness remains true—and sometimes becomes clearer—in suffering.
Rejoicing Is Rooted in Our God, Not Our Circumstances
Rejoicing always in the Lord (see Philippians 4:4) may seem unrealistic at times. But we must remember that this rejoicing is centered not in a passing circumstance but in a constant reality—God Himself, and His Son, Jesus, who died for us and rose again.
On the one hand, we might suppose that Scripture doesn’t command us to rejoice in our nation’s condition, our culture’s trajectory, our spouse’s attitude, our child’s struggle, our church’s conflicts, our job loss, or our poor health. On the other hand, we’re told to “always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Likewise, Scripture tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).
I don’t think this means that we are to rejoice in evil, per se, since God hates evil (Zechariah 8:17; Proverbs 6:16-19) and commands us to hate it (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Romans 12:9). I do think it means that we should believe Romans 8:28, which tells us God will work all things together for our good, including evil things that happen to us.
Believing this frees us to thank God in the middle of difficult and even evil circumstances, knowing that in His sovereign grace, He is accomplishing great, eternal purposes in us through these things.
We’re told to rejoice in the Lord and to “consider it all joy” when we face hardship (James 1:2, NASB). Choosing to rejoice, by rehearsing reasons to be happy and grateful while suffering, affirms trust in God. We walk by faith, believing in what God has done, is doing, and will do to bring a good end to all that troubles us.
This response requires faith that God lovingly superintends our challenges. Viewing our sufferings as random or obsessing over someone else’s bad choices that caused our sufferings robs us of happiness. A weak, small, or faulty view of God always poisons the well of our contentment.
The more we grow in our understanding of God’s attributes, the happier we become.
We Have a Sovereign and Loving God
The deeper our knowledge of God’s character, the deeper our reservoir of strength, perspective, and happiness in hard times. Who is this God we are to trust? What is He really like?
As we have dealt with her cancer over the past two years, Nanci and I have spent time meditating on the attributes of God, rereading and listening to audiobooks such as The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Our hearts are lifted in praise as we contemplate His holiness, grace, justice, mercy, and every facet of His being revealed to us in Scripture.
Scripture teaches that we have a God who loves us and is sovereign over the universe, including all evil. We can’t be happy, and remain happy, without believing in the sovereignty of a loving God. The beauty of the Christian worldview is that while we’re encouraged to take initiative and control what’s within our power, we also know that the enormous part of life we can’t control is under God’s governance.
Scripture tells us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). It assures us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And since God is eternally wise and good and happy, and we’re not, we’re far better off with Him, not us, in control.