In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King, Tolkien describes a scene where the young hobbit Pippin studies the face of the ancient wizard Gandalf:
“Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own…he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”
Tolkien insightfully and descriptively captured the depth and breadth of emotions that characterized the wise old wizard. There were “lines of sorrow”, but under it all “there was a great joy.”
One wonders if Mr. Tolkien was inspired by 1 Peter 1:6-9. In this passage, Peter provides his readers with a vivid description of the depth and breadth of emotions that are meant to characterize the maturing Christian. In verse 6, Peter admits that they are “grieved” by various trials, but this passage about trials is framed by “rejoicing” in verses 6 and 8.
How is it possible to simultaneously grieve and rejoice? How is it possible to rejoice in the midst of the painful experience of trials?
Peter informs us that a Christian can and will do the unthinkable. We can rejoice in our painful trials because we perceive the unseen hand of God working in and through our trials for our good and his glory.
So we rejoice within the painful experience of trials and suffering.
You can discern a maturing Christian when you meet one. Their face may be etched with “lines of sorrow,” but underneath is “a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.” Only the grace of God can explain this emotional paradox.
This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville entitled, “Painful Yet Purposeful“.