Do you ever grow weary with people trying to cheer you up as you walk a crippling path of grief? A rather pointed question, I mused quietly, listening to a woman share her frustration with “well-meaning” friends. No matter the source of your grief, when you walk a hard path, finding joy in a hedge of trials, seems much like finding a needle in a haystack.
Singing songs or expecting a suffering friend or loved one to “choose joy” when crippled by pain, displays an insensitivity to suffering and a lack of true compassion.
As Proverbs 25:20 illustrates, endeavoring to bypass suffering by trying to make a grieving person merry, is as callous as taking their coat away on a cold day.
But as I have learned working in hospice, few people are comfortable around suffering, which drives them to empty platitudes about life’s difficulties and the forced merriment of sufferers around them.
Yet, the more time I spend around suffering, both my own and that of others, the more I learn about finding joy in a hedge of trials.
the nature of hedges
For anyone visiting a well-manicured botanical garden, or the fantastical hedge mazes, understanding the beauty and mystery of hedges is easily captured.
But most people equate hedges with “privacy” or protection. Interestingly, the bible uses the word hedges to imply protection, or restriction.
In Job 1:10 satan throws at God His protective favor of Job, describing it as a “hedge”.
“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.”
While Job describes the hedge as a form of restriction in Job 3:23:
“Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”
Aside from perspective, the concept of hedges or hedging something or someone in, brings a picture to the mind of being surrounded on all sides. At times our trials feel much the same, engulfing our existence.
At least that’s how my trials felt this past year. No sooner catching my breath from one, and another waited on the doorstep, eventually leaving me feeling walled in on every side by severe challenges.
A Hedge of Trials
One day, pondering the felt reality of my hedge of trials, I came across the Weymouth Bible translation of James 1:2:
Every other translation gives the interpretation as “encountering various trials”, or “falling into various trials”. As I went to the Greek, the word “peripipto” often translated as “falling”, is further nuanced by the fuller meaning of being “totally surrounded by something”.
Reading the Weymouth translation of James 1:2 so resonated with me, until I attempted to connect the last part of the verse with the first part: reckoning the hedging in by trials as Joy.
finding joy in a hedge of trials
As Christians, we often use James 1:2 glibly to encourage ourselves or others: “Hey life’s hard right now, but count it all Joy!” Such a flippant, dismissive response elicits shame and guilt, not comfort.
Of utmost importance, we must separate true joy from an emotion we “choose”.
The Joy we possess during suffering is not one which bypasses our emotions, but rather an inward stance firmly grounded in trusting God’s goodness and unfailing love over circumstances.
James’ intention was not one of counseling us to ignore the crushing pain of grief or to elevate our suffering as something in which to rejoice.
Believing God intends a greater purpose for our pain allows us to accept it, but pain was never meant for simply “accepting”.
When we attempt to place suffering as an end in and of itself, or as a badge of honor, we make a grave error. God’s Word shows a continual redemptive thread connecting a loving God to His people as He rescues them time and time again.
There is no story of suffering in the bible without a redemptive arc.
The joy we find in a hedge of trials flows from a supernatural rest in God’s ultimate redemptive plan, not in a misdirected notion that suffering proves our good standing with God.
Joy in God’s Protective hedge
At times, our hedge of trials reveals a side of God’s severe mercy. As in the Babylonian exile of Judah, God spoke comfort through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 29:4-14, promising the people though they went into exile, He would preserve them, and bring them back to the land.
Though the exile was His judgement on those who broke His covenant, His mercy was revealed in preserving and blessing them during the exile.
Yes, events completely alter our lives, suffering rolls as waves over our fragile hearts, but if we believe the truth of the gospel, then true Joy meets us within the hedge of trials as we trust Christ, our Messiah’s provision for a way through every kind of suffering we encounter.
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