The Promise of God We Don’t Like to Remember
In anticipation of our annual conference in October, we will be offering monthly articles that center on this year’s theme, The Promises of God. Now more than ever, when there seems to be no solid ground beneath our feet, we stand on the promises of God. In Christ we receive a new heart and a new spirit, becoming citizens of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Join us at Rooted 2021 as we celebrate the One whose promises to us are trustworthy and true: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)
Life has been hard lately. Even if Covid-19 had never existed, I could write that. Pandemic-related hardship might not even crack my top five of “recent hard things.” It has been one year since my dad passed away. That was just a few months after my uncle’s death. My dad’s health had been waning ever since his stroke the year before. We never got to have a funeral. Since then, we have seen two dear friends back in our home state – both young moms with small children – walk through life-altering sicknesses that will likely be cured only by the Resurrection. We waved farewell to our closest local friends as they moved away. My 6-year-old son cried for about an hour straight after we said goodbye on moving day. My Christmas Day was spent in the ER. As 2021 began, we experienced the sorrow of a miscarriage, and watched as our years-long attempt at adoption dried up.
Needless to say, the last year and half has been filled with a lot of trouble. That is my story. Yours is not exactly the same, but I’m sure it has been filled with trouble as well. The same is true for your students and their families. The year ahead will have its own trouble for all of us, as will the years to come. Jesus warned us about this. In John 16:33, he made a grim promise to his disciples: “in this world you will have trouble.” This may not be our favorite promise in the Bible, but it’s an important one. Jesus’ promise that we will certainly have trouble orients us in the fog of suffering. It also leads us to a new peace—resurrection peace.
Often, the worst part of suffering is not the pain itself. Yes, sickness hurts. But pain can be endured. The worst part of suffering can be the way it leaves you simultaneously disoriented and discouraged. We become like a ship that has lost its bearings in the middle of a storm. In his suffering Job complained to God: “you lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm” (Job 30:22). His suffering left him dizzy. The prophet Isaiah saw that God’s exiled people are the “afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted.” (Isaiah 54:11). In the midst of deep troubles, we are like the storm-tossed sea captain, desperately trying to regain any sort of balance and direction we can find. Into that confusion come Jesus’ words: “In this world you will have trouble.”
After the storm, the captain does not necessarily care how far off course he is. He simply wants to regain his bearings. Jesus’ words do just that. You did not see this coming. He did. Storms are expected on a ship’s journey across the ocean. Suffering is expected in our lives. When it hits, it is tempting to think we are hopelessly lost. But because of Jesus’ words, we know that he still has us on his radar. We have not lost radio contact. As alone as we may feel, God has not forgotten or abandoned us. Jesus’ assurance that troubles will certainly come helps us keep going as the fog of suffering settles over our lives.
Jesus’ promise that we will have trouble also leads us into a new peace. All of our troubles are like mini-deaths. In them, something we love about life is killed. My dad’s death was about more than his own. A deep connection of my own was cut off. And as our adoption journey came to a fruitless end, we found ourselves having to bury some of our hopes and dreams. Suffering is death’s dress rehearsal. This is why in 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul can claim he dies every day. And yet, Paul also claims to have a comfort that those who live with less trouble miss out on. “We share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” That’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:5. But “through Christ Jesus we share abundantly in comfort too.” This comfort is “the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” And there is no greater comfort than that which comes directly from “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” Paul shows us how, as disciples united to Christ, our troubles can lead us into a deeper comfort than the false comfort of not having much trouble in this world.
This peace and comfort that comes alongside tribulation is resurrection peace. The life Jesus has after his resurrection is markedly different than what he had before. What was buried was perishable and “sown in dishonor” but it is raised imperishable and in glory (1 Cor 15:42-43). Just as Jesus’ life is transformed through death and resurrection, so also is the comfort we have on their other side of trouble transformed. Jesus, from his conception through ascension, is fully human. But that human life which has moved from death to life is now incorruptible. Jesus entered into “resurrection life.” That is what lies ahead for us at the great resurrection at the end of the age. But that sort of resurrection peace is available to us now in our peace-killing troubles. As our peace and comfort are laid to rest in the grave of tribulation, they can rise again to resurrection peace. Just as Christ’s grave was an unexpected gateway into abundant life, so our troubles are hidden passages into deeper peace and comfort.
As youth ministers, we need to help our students and their families grasp this resurrection life. To do that, we need to make it clear that they will have trouble. Let Jesus’ seemingly grim promise be known. They will have trouble. When they think ahead to marriage, have they been warned that the “for worse” and “for poorer” and “in sickness” parts of their vows will certainly come to pass? As they learn to discern God’s will for their lives, have they been foolishly promised that pursuing godly plans never leads to disappointment? Make sure they know that troubles will come.
But they also must know what to do with these troubles. Be ready to talk about them. Be a model of how we take our troubles to God. In an act of misguided piety, we often slap Romans 8:28 onto every trial. The desire to put a spiritual bandaid over every hurt hampers the spiritual development of many young people, perhaps young men in particular. Most adolescent guys in our day and age already struggle to understand themselves and their emotional lives. They are happy to accept the idea that they can ignore their hurts and trouble in the name of “trusting God’s goodness.” But the Bible teaches us to engage God with these troubles. Jesus’ own walk to the cross was not a stoic march, rather it was a heart-wrenching and prayer-filled act of obedience. In him, we may indeed have peace. But it’s the peace we have as we take our troubles to the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.
Jesus has overcome the world. He did this through his own tribulation – his death on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. United to him by the Holy Spirit, we can know that same victorious peace. It does not come as we or our students avoid hardship, or act like hard things aren’t so bad. In the world, you will have trouble. Jesus wants us to admit it. Peace comes as we draw near to God, receiving the peace and comfort he gives as he draws near to us.