Everyone is trying to find their way to joy, and if not joy, at least happiness. That’s a good desire, by the way: It fuels our search. It keeps us moving forward. Folks who give up even wanting to be happy are deep into what might be called depression.
But in Christendom there seems to be this perennial debate about how to get there. One camp, rising in popularity for obvious reasons, promises a life above and beyond suffering. If we just worship/believe/proclaim/whatever, we can live in the fullness of the kingdom of God right now! We don’t have to be sick/poor/hurting. Victory is ours! There is a way around the suffering!
The other camp—often in reaction to these bold claims—tries very hard to say that no, the promises of God are mostly for later. The healing, the breakthrough, the victory is later. After you die. In heaven. Some of the advocates of this position are very, very dear saints, who, unable to find breakthrough, have made a theology of their own disappointment.
I just want to point out two things: First, suffering is guaranteed to the saints. Jesus says to the disciples and to us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Second, joy is clearly promised to the children of God in this life. Jesus said to His disciples, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24 nasb).
It’s not an either/or situation, thank God. Because, as much as many of us have tried, we don’t seem to be able to rid the world of suffering just by worshipping longer or praying harder or whatever the magic method is supposed to be. I believe a great deal of breakthrough and healing is available in this life. The history of the church is filled with such stories. I also believe joy and breakthrough are not opposed to suffering but are available in the midst of it. Suffering is not a failure of faith on our part; its presence does not mean the absence of the promises of God. We can live with suffering and joy simultaneously. How does this work?
Joy is deeply rooted in the availability of God and His kingdom right here, right now. Sometimes we find breakthrough. Sometimes we find a deeper knowing of God in our suffering. But neither breakthrough nor suffering is ultimately the point. The joy that Paul discovered, the joy that Jesus knew and invited us into, begins in a deeper experience of God, whatever our situation might be.