The Bible is a divine work—the very Word of God. It is also a profoundly human book, dealing with real life. Throughout the pages of Scripture, the lowest lows are juxtaposed against divine hope and promise. Often we see this in a single passage, and it should tell us something about our reality: Pain and hardship are real and deep in this fallen world, but God’s goodness is greater still. It is present during the darkest of times.
Psalm 31 is a perfect example of this. It moves from rejoicing and gladness in verses 7–8, to distress, sorrow, and despair in verses 9–13. Then it shifts back again as verses 14–24 are an expression of trust, hope, and faith in light of God’s goodness and restoration. It reads a little like a hike in the mountains; you start fresh and hopeful, but sink into discouragement and exhaustion as the trail keeps winding up and up with no end in sight. But, eventually, you do make it to the top and enjoy majestic vistas as far as the eye can see.
So often we create a false dichotomy where the difficult parts of life leave no room for hope or thankfulness, and the good times wipe away all memory of the hard times (or they’re weighted with the realization that hard times will come again). We wallow in pain and get high on happiness, forgetting that each is just as real as we are experiencing the other. In short, we forget the truth of life in this world as God describes it in His Word.
James 1 tells us, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (vv.2–3). First Peter 4 says we shouldn’t be surprised when trials come, though we often are, and should instead rejoice (vv.12–13). Wallowing in misery would seem to be the natural response to tough times, and yet we’re supposed to be thankful?
Yes, and here’s why: Everything that’s true of God when life is good is just as true when life falls apart. The same joys that lead us to spiritual highs are real when we are at our lowest. God is God even when we cannot see what He is doing or why He is doing it. He is working, and when our faith is tested we come out stronger, deeper, and wiser. Thankfulness and suffering are not opposites. They are a cord of two strands. Followers of Christ have so much to be thankful for in every circumstance. Our problem is that we are often only thankful for our circumstances instead of being thankful in them. So when (not if) you go through trials, remember that Scripture is both perfectly divine and profoundly human. In those times, we need to listen to what God’s Word is telling us, not what our circumstances are saying.