By Craig Groeschel
Seeing so much poverty everywhere makes me
think that God is not rich. He gives the appearance
of it, but I suspect some financial difficulties.
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
If only life were like a sitcom.
When I was growing up, there wasn’t so much graphic violence and corruption on TV—all those antiheroes we were just talking about. And that’s probably just as well, because I imagine my parents wouldn’t have let me watch those shows anyway. So I grew up on a steady diet of classic sitcoms: The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, The Andy Griffith Show, and the scandalously sexy Three’s Company.
The formulas were so predictable yet so satisfying. Familiar characters experienced an unexpected problem that provided ample one-liners and silly slapstick situations. Then right before the end, the Fonz or Sheriff Taylor or Alice the housekeeper or Janet and Jack solved the problem, and everything was great again, all in under thirty minutes—and actually, even less than that when you factor in commercial breaks! While I knew this wasn’t the way the real world worked, it was hard not to start wishing that life followed a similar script.
At some point, we all notice that the sharp corners of reality have little in common with all those smooth, glossy surfaces of life on television. Maybe it starts at a young age with fairy tales and Disney movies, most of which end pretty well. But when you’re being chased not by the Big Bad Wolf but by a whole pack of ravenous wolves with names like Cancer and Bankruptcy and Addiction and Divorce, it’s hard to believe in happily ever after.
When you’re hit by a drunk driver and you need half a dozen surgeries on your spine just so you can walk again, who would have thought you’d end up addicted to prescription painkillers?
When you slept around some and had that abortion before you became a Christian and then later fell in love with the man who would become your husband, who would ever have imagined that now you wouldn’t be able to get pregnant?
When you begged God for a child and he gave you one, who knew that you would lose your spouse to cancer and find yourself working three jobs as a single parent?
When you had a few drinks—far less than everyone else at that party—who would have thought that you’d be the one to end up with a DUI that keeps throwing up roadblocks in your career?
Your life doesn’t usually play out in the way you would write your own story. As you’re dealing with life’s unfairness, even if your mind is able to come up with all kinds of resourceful solutions, the tricky part is having the power to do any of those things.
If you were God, you would know how the latest episode of your sitcom life should wrap up. You recover from surgery and run your first marathon. You get accepted to your favorite college with a full scholarship. You and your husband pray together through the ordeal of infertility and fall more in love with each other than ever, then adopt a beautiful little girl. You struggle to survive without your spouse, until you meet that amazing, single, gorgeous, godly millionaire in small group at your church.
Of course, if you had the power, you might not just provide the happy endings. Maybe you’d go even further: you’d also punish all those selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited people who seem to get away with murder (literally and figuratively). The drug lords who prey on the most vulnerable, hooking them on a sweet poison that will inevitably kill them. The villains who abuse children and swindle senior citizens. The cheaters in power who rig the system to take advantage of the poor. The monsters who rape women to make themselves feel like men and feed their own desires. The women who manipulate men to get what they want.
If you were God, maybe you’d see to it that these evil people were held accountable. You’d make sure they experienced the same measure of pain, loss, and injury that they’ve caused. That they suffered at least as much as their victims.
But as much as we think we know, the reality is this: we’re not God, and we don’t know best (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
Often when we want God to do something, the solution wouldn’t require much of him. A quick nod. A spoken word. An answered prayer. In the grand scheme of things, just a small miracle. If only he would allow me to be rewarded for all my hard work! Or just heal my sick child! Or help my loved one overcome depression! Or break my sexual addiction! Or bring my prodigal child back home! Or at least let me win the lottery!
As we grow to trust God (see Proverbs 3:5-6), we have to recognize what I consider to be some of the fundamentals of growing in the Christian faith: Awe. Respect. Reverence. Appreciation for God being God. Acceptance of our limitations as human beings. We can’t know everything or see into other people’s hearts. We can’t know all that has come before in the history of the world. And we sure can’t see ahead to how it will all unfold.
But God can.
Like a master storyteller, he is crafting an epic in which he allows each of us to play a significant role. There are no minor characters or bit players in God’s story. We’re all important (see Romans 8:31). He’ll never abandon us (see Hebrews 13:5-6), and he’s working everything for our good (see Romans 8:28).
So when we’re suffering, ranting and raving about all the unfairness of life, we would do well also to remember that there’s so much more going on than we can see or understand from our limited perspective. We’re seeing only a tiny sliver of a much bigger story, perhaps only one sentence or one paragraph on just a single page.
________Taken from Hope in the Dark: Believing God Is Good When Life Is Not by Craig Groeschel. Click here to learn more about this title.
Perhaps you’ve thought or said this: “I want to believe, I want to have hope, but…”
Pastor Craig Groeschel hears these words often and has asked them himself. We want to know God, feel his presence, and trust that he hears our prayers, but in the midst of great pain, we may wonder if he really cares about us. Even when we have both hope and hurt, sometimes it’s the hurt that shouts the loudest. Can God be good when life is not?
In Hope in the Dark, Groeschel explores the story of the father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus, saying, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” In the man’s sincere plea, Jesus heard the tension in the man’s battle-scarred heart. He healed not only the boy but the father too, driving out the hopelessness that had overtaken him. He can do the same for us today.
As Groeschel shares his pain surrounding the current health challenges of his daughter, he acknowledges the questions we may ask in our own deepest pain: “Where was God when I was being abused?” “Why was my child born with a disability?” “Why did the cancer come back?” “Why are all my friends married and I’m alone?” He invites us to wrestle with such questions as we ask God to honor our faith and heal our unbelief.
In the middle of your profound pain, you long for authentic words of understanding and hope. You long to know that even in overwhelming reality, you can still believe that God is good. Rediscover a faith in the character, power, and presence of God. Even in the questions. Even now.
Craig Groeschel is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding and senior pastor of Life. Church, an innovative and pacesetting church meeting in multiple locations around the United States and globally online. He is the author of several books, including Divine Direction, Liking Jesus, Fight, The Christian Atheist, and It. Craig, his wife, Amy, and their six children live in Edmond, Oklahoma. To learn more, visit CraigGroeschelBooks.com.
When life’s circumstances take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, how do you obey the Bible’s call to “be joyful always” when it sounds almost crazy—and out of reach.
Bible Gateway interviewed Stasi Eldredge (@StasiEldredge) about her book, Defiant Joy: Taking Hold of Hope, Beauty, and Life in a Hurting World (Thomas Nelson, 2018).
What’s the difference between “joy” and “defiant joy”?
Stasi Eldredge: The answer is an easy one. Joy means to have great pleasure or delight.
In this world we find ourselves living in, having joy in the midst of it often feels both crazy and out of reach. That’s why we need to possess a defiant stance.
Defiant means to stand against the tide. It means to go against the flow that’s comprised of a strong current of despair and difficulty. Believing that sorrow and loss don’t have the final word takes defiance. To have joy in the midst of pain or the current newsfeed can seem impossible.
And all on our own, it’s impossible. But just as Gabriel said after making his outlandish proclamation to Mary that she, a virgin, would give birth to the Savior of the world, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
What do you mean when you write that, rather than denying the truth of reality, defiant joy is being fully present to it?
Stasi Eldredge: Being fully present to our lives will mean feeling our sorrow or pain or happiness or whatever we’re in the midst of and living with a heart rooted in the deepest reality of the goodness of God and the life that’s coming to us. To live with an authentic and defiant joy will mean engaging our lives fully, but interpreting them by the highlight of Heaven.
God is not present in our pretending that our lives are not what they are. He’s present in moments, even when our moments are a very hard place. The invitation from God is to encounter him in our here and now with an honesty and a trust that he will meet us.
Why do you say Christmas is an invasion and how does that pertain to being joyful?
Stasi Eldredge: The incarnation of Jesus was a rescue mission for mankind. Planned long in advance, God came into the Earth to save us—much like a military unit will sneak into an enemy camp to rescue captives. We were all captive to sin, and Jesus came under the cover of night, to the little town of Bethlehem, to perform the greatest rescue mission ever. He invaded our world that had fallen under the power of the evil one to victoriously triumph over evil!
How has writing this book helped you in your personal battle with depression?
Stasi Eldredge: Writing Defiant Joy has caused me to check in with my own soul every day to ask myself what I’m believing. My thoughts are either based on the truth of the gospel or not. I have a choice to make when I find my emotions have plummeted and that is to turn my gaze to the truth that I’m endlessly loved. My emotions may not instantly rise, but my soul can rest in God and I can experience being rooted in joy.
Briefly explain the message of your chapter titled “The Cup.”
Stasi Eldredge: Jesus asks us to drink the same cup that he did. It was a cup of suffering—one that the Father asked him to drink. Though we’ll never suffer as Jesus did, he asks us to take up our cross and follow him. The cup Jesus drank was a doorway to life. Death led to the resurrection. Sorrow led to joy. The ways of God are higher than ours, but in Christ and because he led the way, the cup of suffering becomes the cup of joy for us just as it did for him.
How should a person struggling to have joy approach the Bible?
Stasi Eldredge: Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth about who God really is and who you are in him. Ask him to show you what your joy is to be based upon. I’d begin by spending some time in Ephesians 1 and asking God to reveal the truth to you of how deeply loved you are.
How is joy cultivated?
Stasi Eldredge: The primary key that unlocks joy is gratitude. Having a thankful heart is the ground in which joy flourishes. We can cultivate gratitude by remembering the goodness and faithfulness of God in our own lives and in the Word of God.
If a person is in a season where being thankful feels completely out of reach, then I suggest they begin by thinking of things they like and making a list. Simple things as in, “I like coffee. I like the smell of freshly mown grass. I like sunsets…” After making the list, thank God for those things. It’s amazing the affect a shift in our thoughts can take.
How do you want people to use your book?
Stasi Eldredge: I want people to read Defiant Joy and find understanding, mercy, and hope in it. My desire is that it reveals the love of God more deeply and awakens their joy as their response.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Stasi Eldredge: A favorite verse if mine is Zephaniah 3:17 —
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)
I find so much joy and awe in the fact that God is singing over me. He’s rejoicing over me every day even when I blow it or am not living as well as I’d like. His love is unchangeable and unconditional. Hooray!
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Stasi Eldredge: Bible Gateway is FANTASTIC. It’s such a huge help in finding Scripture, looking up meanings, parallel verses, diving deeper, and being encouraged. It’s an invaluable tool that I personally use often. Plus it has articles that bring truth and encouragement as well! It’s something that everyone should be aware of and make use of!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Stasi Eldredge: God is a God of joy. It’s at the very center of his being. His command that we are joyful always means that it’s both possible for us and that he wants it for us. The invitation is to come to know him better. Because when we do, our joy will increase and be rooted and grounded in his unending, immeasurable, boundless love.
Defiant Joy is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Stasi Eldredge is a New York Times bestselling author of such books as Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul and Becoming Myself, and her books have sold nearly 3 million copies and changed women’s lives all over the world. A teacher and conference speaker, Stasi is the director of the women’s ministry at Ransomed Heart and leads Captivating retreats internationally. Her passion is to see lives transformed by the beauty of the gospel. She and her family make their home in Colorado Springs, Colorado.