A couple of months ago, I was studying chapters 14-16 of John. They’re really nice chapters where the Lord is explaining to his disciples what will soon occur for him and them. He’s also helping them understand why it’s necessary and how they can remain at peace despite the loneliness and difficulty to come. In the past when I’ve read these parts, I’ve felt sorrow for the apostles and un-comforted by the words of the Saviour here, because it was such a sad and difficult thing that they were going to have to experience, losing him and everything that would come after. Their lives would be so hard, and he would be gone.
But this time, I felt that missing comfort as I understood what the Lord was teaching them. In fact, I know its truth already in my own life – that even though their lives would get really difficult, their joy would be magnified because they knew by the Holy Ghost that they were part of a true work, that Jesus was the Christ, and that the marvellous Gospel was real. His peace would be with them, given continuously by the Holy Ghost as they strove to live God’s laws. Life was brighter for them, even though – in the world (as Jesus told them it would be) – it was darker.
The principle is similar for all of us. Believing in and following Christ doesn’t take away the difficulties of life – it even brings extra ones – but it makes life a sacred, holy thing. It leads me to find beauty and joy in trial; it consecrates the furnace experiences and turns them into refining fires. Although I’m aware of more because of what I know, like Eve I rejoice in my knowledge, because I know there is eternal purpose, a larger-than-me plan. Although the world around me darkens, my life feels brighter because the meaning behind the bitter makes it also sweet. The apostle Paul understood this principle intimately; he speaks of it often in his letters to the Saints. In Philippians 6:11-13, he lists afflictions he has learnt to endure, alongside blessings he has learnt to appreciate – both ministering to his (and ours to our) salvation. In verse 7, he explains how it is possible to love life and make the difficult sacred:
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
That’s why Christ promised the apostles peace in him as he explained these things to them –
These things I have spoken unto you, that ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
“Jesus calls upon us to have a deliberate trust in God’s unfolding purposes, not only for all humankind but for us individually. And we are to be of good cheer in the unfolding process.” (Neal A. Maxwell)
Being of good cheer is about perspective. If we look at what really matters, then we won’t “charge God foolishly“, imagining that difficult things, whether individual or in the world around us, are evidence of a lack of love or regard on His part. With the Gospel of Good News in our minds and hearts, we can continually be cheerful as we seek the Light of Christ and enjoy its illumination. We can go forward, making goals and decisions, helping those in need without feeling despair, and seeing the depth behind the sometimes-blinding foreground scene. Living this way, we will keep that peace of God within us and say with Paul,
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…. For which cause we lose not our courage. And though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, because we look not at visible things, but at those which are unseen: for the things which are seen are temporary, but the unseen things are eternal.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 16-18
(Words in un-italics are where I’ve used the French translation by Louis Segond).
(I love the way Paul explains things with such wonderful and poetic logic!) The injunction to be of good cheer is found throughout the scriptures – given to the Saints in all times and circumstances. I figure if God tells His people this repeatedly, He has good reason. He knows many, many things that we do not. Trusting His judgement is a good idea! But one that can be hard to implement. I think it comes down to desire and practice….like most good things. As we cultivate this desire and practice this trust, we will hear ever more clearly and often the voice of gladness, of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth; glad tidings of great joy, confirming our hope! Saying to us, Courage, and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.