In Cru, we laugh at how there’s this somewhat standard answer to some questions. It goes like this:
“How was your summer?”
“It was hard… but good.”
“How was your year?”
“Hard… but good.”
A while back, I asked a friend who was walking through some disappointing news how she was doing. Her reply: “Well, it’s hard… but good.” In that conversation, a light suddenly flicked on for me. Why are we surprised that hard can be good? Should we not say that things are hard… AND good?
This is a problem for upper-middle-class Americans. We have no idea how to deal with difficulty. We’ve been sold the lie that hard things in life should be avoided at all cost, because – well, they’re hard. We don’t want to experience discomfort. Life should be easy.
Some of the most fruitful and beneficial years of my life have also been the hardest. The year I lived in Asia was incredibly painful. It was a year of stripping, of God graciously showing me my need for Him by showing me how unbelievably (at least to me it was unbelievable!) inadequate I am. It didn’t feel like God was being gracious.
Looking back, He was being incredibly merciful – with what C.S. Lewis has termed “a severe mercy.” He was in the process of bringing me into freedom while I was clinging to the bars of my familiar prison cell. It wasn’t pleasant. But it was good.
The apostle Paul says it this way: “For our light and momentary troubles [for him, of being imprisoned, flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, etc!] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Yes, life is hard. And in the midst of difficulty, we frequently find that God is good. Romans 5 traces an interesting cause-and-effect for us, a chain that starts off in a startling way.
We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
This sounds so odd to our ears. Rejoice in sufferings?? But suffering ultimately produces character and HOPE! Hope in the glory of God, an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles! When we believe the lie that our lives were meant for comfort, we miss such riches.
There is a flip side to this, however. Our culture also feels the need to gloss over difficulty. “It’s hard,” we say. “But it’s good,” we hasten to add, lest we make our conversation partner (or ourselves!) uncomfortable. We have a hard time just accepting that sometimes, hard is not good. It’s just plain HARD. Painful. Difficult. Depression is HARD. Chronic illness is HARD. Loss is HARD. Shattered dreams of what we expected out of life are HARD.
Does this mean that God is not good in the midst of those things? No, it doesn’t. In fact, He can and does work good out of evil, like He did in and through Joseph. But neither does it mean that we need to pretend like we have it all together when we don’t. The purpose of HARD in our lives is to bring us to see that we do actually need God. We are not adequate gods in ourselves, although I personally seem to like to think that I am perfectly adequate.
I heard the story today of a missionary family whose ministry is seeing things like you read about in books. A whole tribe of people are hearing about Jesus for the first time and accepting his sacrifice on their behalf before the Holy God…. The chief of the tribe was one of the first!
Yet, as the person who told me the story put it, their family is like a shield protecting this tribe while the gospel takes root; the missionaries themselves are receiving the brunt of the spiritual attack. Like Paul, they are quite literally “hard pressed on every side…perplexed…persecuted…struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). On almost every front, they are experiencing excruciating pain. I can’t imagine walking through the difficulties in their lives right now.
Even in the midst of their sufferings, though, they say, “God is good. We are depending on Him, resting in Him, crying out to Him, following Him.” They are not minimizing their pain, but they are expressing faith in the midst of it… and being made more like Christ as they walk through it, although they probably don’t see that light as they’re in the midst of the darkness of their circumstances right now.
The fact is, the good things in life – the truly good things, like being made like Christ, or gaining depth of character – are bought with a price. Our class just read a chapter in Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper, about the incomparable sufferings of Jesus. Paul says that we will share in Christ’s glory, if we also share in His sufferings (Romans 8:17). Jesus says that the servant is not greater than her Master (John 13:16). Sometimes, life is just hard.
Why are we surprised by this?