Wonderful joy ahead?

But God gives us joy

1 Peter 1:6-12 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. … You love Jesus even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. … This Good News is so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus … Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

Trials are temporary. Joy is forever.

That’s great, Peter. But the trials I’m going through feel like forever. It would be easier (though NOT easy) to listen to this if you were someone who knows about trauma and doesn’t want to just stick bandaids over my wounds with some platitude of “one day by and by …” I’m in pain NOW.

Well, actually, Peter did know a bit about suffering. He wrote his letters from Rome, where Christians were being treated very badly because allegiance to Christ seemed antithetical to loyalty to Caesar. In fact, within a couple years of penning these words, both Peter and Paul were not just abused but killed because they refused to renounce their faith, Peter by crucifixion (upside-down, according to tradition), and Paul by beheading.

Well, OK, I’ll stick with you a little longer. But I don’t get the joy thing. At all. And trust? Don’t you know that’s the first thing to go for victims of abuse and trauma? If trust is what it takes, I’m outta here. I’ve been betrayed more times than you can imagine. I don’t trust anyone.

Which is worse, do you think, to be the victim of betrayal, or to realize you yourself have betrayed—dramatically, three times!—the person who means the most to you in the whole world? Just sayin’ … Have YOU ever betrayed anyone? Someone you actually love?

Hmm, well … Let’s not talk about that. Let’s go back to the time thing. “A little while”? What does that even mean? I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t feel pain, and confusion, and fear, and anger … Only good times go by in a flash. Hard times seem endless. I can’t even imagine there is wonderful joy ahead.

I hear you. Time is so tricky for us. I’ve heard people (like C.S. Lewis) say we weren’t made for time, and that’s why we don’t ever feel comfortable with it.

We’re like my four-year-old grandson Caleb, still confused by what “yesterday,” “last week,” “later,” “tomorrow,” and “next month” mean. My daughter Valerie, who works three nights a week as a critical care nurse in the ICU of Pittsburgh children’s hospital, has taught Caleb to count her work nights so he can know his mom won’t always be gone or sleeping. “Tonight is number three,” he’ll tell me on Tuesdays. “Then Mommy will be with us.”

But how long will my “little while” be? I wish I could know like Caleb that “today is # three of three, then Jesus will be with us.”

I think that’s why Peter emphasizes trust. We don’t know, and we can’t see, and trust seems like a terrible risk. But we can ask God for the courage to begin learning to trust Jesus, who is unique in that he never betrayed anyone. Not ever. As we begin trusting him, our hearts start opening to the unexpected and unexplainable joy he offers us by the Holy Spirit even through the most awful times. Not something we can ever fake or drum up. A gift.

The only way Peter’s words make sense is that they’re based on the foundation we considered on my first post about these letters, that we can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. He can cleanse us of the junk and pain and residue left in our souls by our experiences in the past. He can do this because he carried it all for us already, putting his own life on the line for us.

One of my heroes, Diane Langberg, says it like this:

Jesus was made the subject of shame as absolutely as was the custom in that day. Grace abandoned him. In other words, he descended into hell. The Creator is destroyed. Life becomes dead. Glory turns to shame, Beauty is obliterated. Living water thirsts. All Power becomes powerless. The great Clothier of everything is stripped naked. All-Honor is despised. Holiness becomes excrement. Love is forsaken. Heaven enters hell. These truths mean many wonderful, eternal things. They also mean that our God understands trauma. … And that sin can die in us so the life of God can be born in us.

I believe Diane is talking about both the sin committed against us and our own sin. The effects of both can be cleansed, washed away as we open our hearts to him.

And joy—the inexplicable joy Peter is talking about—is the result. Both now, in the middle of tough times, and forever.

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