John 16: (16-23a) 23b-28
It’s difficult these days not to read every gospel text from the perspective of those whose lives have been so drastically altered by the coronavirus. Encountering this text from John 16, the word that captured my attention was the word “joy.” “You will have pain,” Jesus tells his disciples, “but your pain will turn into joy” (v. 20). Of course he is talking here of the pain the disciples will experience when Jesus is separated from them as he goes forward to his passion and death. “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me,” he says (v. 17). He knows they will suffer; he knows that the events of the coming days will test and try them; and he knows he cannot protect them from this pain. But he wants to keep their eyes fixed not on the pain, but on the joy that is to come.
“You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” To help them grasp this promise, he offers the example of a woman in childbirth. The pain of birthing a child is intense, “but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world” (v. 21) There is joy on the other side of this suffering, he promises. “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joyfrom you”(v. 22).
“The Father himself loves you,” he assures them, and therefore they can ask for whatever they need in his name and the Father will give it to them (v. 23-27). “Ask and you will receive,” he tells them, “so that your joy may be complete” (v. 24). Once again, God intends joy for his people, not endless sorrow, and God will provide all that they need to find real and lasting joy.
We – that is, all of us – have experienced pain in this time of coronavirus. Many have experienced significant loss and grief. The experience of suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. And yet, even in suffering, we can look forward to the joy of deliverance. As the psalmist says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5). God has promised to be an abiding presence with us in suffering and to wait and watch and work with us through the long night until the morning light comes again. God longs to draw close to us in these times, to know and fulfill the hidden desires of our hearts, to be with us as we wait for hope and light and life to return – all this, Jesus says, ”so that your joy may be complete.”
Lift your eyes, then, above and beyond the suffering of the present moment, however you are experiencing it, to see the hope and promise of God that ‘your joy may be complete.’ Know that God’s purpose and intention is for you to experience life abundantly, and to find deep and abiding joy in him. Keep your eyes fixed on the joy that is yours as a child of God, and the fuller joy that is to come. Imagine and long for that day when “your joy [will] be complete.”
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