Joys & Suffering
Author: Alex Mize // Open Table // Senior
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1: 5b-6 (NLT)
Joy and Suffering. These two terms seem mutually exclusive, right? On a very basic level we could look at these terms and see antonyms, advanced versions of “happy” and “sad.” But once we dig into what these truly mean, we find related terms that give better representations of what they mean. From Joy, we can find other Biblical terms that we use during the advent season: Peace, Love, and Hope. From suffering, we can find worldly examples of suffering such as the cycle of poverty or your –isms (racism, sexism, etc.). These terms are much larger than “happy” or “sad,” they are a way of life, the latter existing due to institutional barriers and privileged ambivalence. So what’s the point? You’re probably thinking: joy rocks and suffering sucks, so are you just going to tell us that through scripture, we can come out of suffering and find joy? No, that would be ridiculous. For me to say that, that would mean that those Bahamians that just felt the impact of a category 5 hurricane just need to read scripture and they’ll find joy… while their homes are either destroyed or drowning in flood water. No, that would be ridiculous. We live a broken world full of suffering that scripture just can’t solve.
What do we do? That’s sort of a loaded question, there’s not really an answer. I am sure many of you all are in my boat when you feel overwhelmed with the suffering of the world and want to help end it but know that, at the end of the day, suffering will continue. While scripture won’t solve suffering, it might provide insight into how we can use our privilege best. In 1 Thessalonians 1: 5b-6, Paul, Silas, and Timothy write: “And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.”
Paul, Silas, and Timothy expressed that they had concern for the Thessalonians and that that people would know that based on how they were. We should ooze concern for others in such a way that those who are suffering do not even need to ask if we care about them, they just know. It should never be a question of if you love them or participate in the –isms, it should be obvious. From that, people that are suffering can find joy through you. Note that the scripture does not say suffering will go away, it just says that they could find joy amidst their current suffering. You can bring joy to those that really are not experiencing much of it just by your words, actions, and showing genuine concern.
I struggle with this constantly, erring on a lack of joy in my speech. I challenged myself to show concern for everyone I come into contact with this week. Join me!