Tribulation: 1. grievous trouble; severe trial or suffering. 2. an instance of this; an affliction, trouble, etc.Synonyms: 1. affliction, hardship, distress, adversity.
Jesus has always been very forthright about the fact that as a Christian I will face trials. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me," He cautions those who want to follow Him. If Jesus' path headed straight to the cross, why shouldn't mine? And Paul also echos this thought in Acts, when he writes, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
Thus far, my life as an American Christian has been pretty comfortable. Besides the painful tear in family relationships and a brief financial testing of unemployment, it's not been filled with overwhelming trials. I'm not trying to discredit the pain that has accompanied these circumstances I've experienced. But when I consider my brothers and sisters in many other countries, who suffer daily for the status as "Christian," they can't help but pale in comparison.
Even though it's currently unlikely I'll suffer direct persecution for my faith in the U.S. the Bible doesn't say that's the only form of trouble I'll encounter. But that's usually what comes to my mind when I read about "tribulation" in the Bible. Jesus told his disciples "In the world you will have tribulation." And so will I, whether job loss, cancer, or family break-up.
Yet, I've noticed that we as Americans often find ourselves surprised by tribulation. Maybe we think we're guaranteed the "American Dream" by God or something. When encountering a trial I instead often find myself questioning God's goodness. I wonder if I'm undergoing cosmic punishment. I seek escape as soon as possible. Perhaps I'm even been tempted to discard my faith, becoming bitter towards God, and seek only whatever makes me happy.
But what was it that I "signed" on for when I said "yes" to God? Wasn't it to daily pick up my cross, whatever shape my cross may come in?
Perhaps I've even subconsciously embraced the Prosperity Gospel and believe obedience to God = blessing. And I usually define blessings as material possessions and pleasant circumstances. Not spiritual growth.
The truth is--Christian or not--trouble exists in the world. And I can go through that trouble with or without God's help. I need to expect to experience suffering in my life. Not in some morbid doom and gloom way. No. But simply take Jesus at his Word. I will experience tribulation. And God--not me--will determine what that tribulation will look like.
Just after Jesus promises the disciples tribulation, He holds out the promise of Hope. The promise of the Gospel. The promise of Resurrection. "But take heart; I have overcome the world," He tells not only the disciples, but also me. Elisabeth Elliot reminds me that despite the fact that sometimes our “difficulties often appear to be random. Our tragedies look wildly uncontrolled. They are not. They are subject. Limits are set. God is quietly at work, standing in the shadows, ceaselessly watching over His children.” And so I can take heart knowing I have hope at my disposal. And also peace.
"In me you may have peace," Jesus says, just a few hours before going to the cross. I can have peace because Christ has overcome the world. All the ugly, sick, vile, abusive, murderous things that exist in the world and my own heart have already been put to death at the cross. No matter what this world holds for me, I can to take heart. I can have peace.
In the midst of loss. In the midst of tribulation. God is enough.
Jesus has overcome it all, and will help me--and you--overcome it too.