I believe that all of my fear and anxiety comes directly from this fact: I am desperate to avoid tribulation. I do not want to be destitute of spirit or hungry or persecuted or mourning. I am filled with anxiety at the thought of being misrepresented or taken advantage of. I am terrified of harm coming to my children or sorrow coming to my soul. I do everything I can to protect myself and my loved ones from any pain whatsoever. This, of course, is a very natural thing to be and do. It is a relief that I am not a masochist and that, at the very least, I have the primal instincts of fight and flight intact. But the marvelous, horrible reality of being a Christian is that we are called to rise above the natural to the super(situated over)natural. When I am like a wild beast, running helter-skelter to avoid suffering, I am running from blessedness. In our Savior’s economy, the people smack in the middle of tribulation are the blessed ones (Matthew 5:1-11). The people resigned to the humble state of meek neediness are the fortunate ones, according to the blessing-giver Himself.
Jesus had just been saying this to His disciples. The scattering hour is at hand. It is about to get really ugly for all of us (John 16:32). This is going to hurt. We are going to have big trouble. But remember these things that I have been speaking to you. I am going to be glorified (John 13:31-32). You will soon join Me in glory (John14:1-4). “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18) in the form of the Helper Who will be an advantage to you (John 16:7) because We, the Godhead, are actually going to make our home in you (John 14:23). “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace (John 16:33), “so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11), “so that you may be kept from stumbling” (John 16:1).
Jesus is Himself imminently cross-bound, and He is promising his friends a great deal of torment too. To keep them from stumbling under the weight of that sorrow, He is giving them the remedy ahead of time. Here, hold onto this victual, my dear ones. You are going to need this healing remedy very soon. And this is the elixir: I AM. Though you head toward certain torture and death, “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). I am going to be in you, and you are going to be in Me, and in that communion there is peace and even joy, though they tear you limb from limb. Take courage. Take it. Courage is pluck in the presence of pain. This kind of daring fearlessness is not an emotion but a birthright as children of the Victor! Are you discouraged by the tribulation at hand? Dis is a Latin prefix for the idea of pulling away or asunder. Do not let your birthright, your courage, be stolen from you. Take back your grit, your nerve, your ability to persevere by reminding yourself of this: I know how this all shakes out-- I AM the overcomer and you are My heirs!
As sure as His promise of tribulation is His promise of victory. But His victory never quite looks as we expect. I am thinking of the way He let His own home--the temple where He literally dwelt in Shekinah glory and Jerusalem which He named “The LORD is there” (Ezekiel48:35)--become an utter desolation in order to discipline and thus win back His people. I am thinking of the way He let himself be overcome by proud men and nailed to death in what could only be seen as defeat and contradiction of His claims in order to ransom aliens and strangers into heirdom. The God we are dealing with is not above being humiliated in our eyes. He is not concerned with the appearance of things. He will not avoid suffering. He knows what comes of tribulation.
“’Look at this,’ John said in his dream, as the devastation continued to play out before him. ‘It’s horrible. It’s too horrible.’ The presence beside him smiled. John could feel it. ‘No, it isn’t so horrible,’ said the being. ‘It depends on what you want to see. Look.’ In the dream, two jumbo jets had just collided in midair, raining twisted metal and fire and broken bodies on the ground below. But when John looked more closely, he could see that every piece of wreckage was transformed as it hit the ground. All the debris was recombining, slowly growing into an airport. The people who had been killed in the collision were walking through the new buildings, boarding new planes. ‘You see,’ said the presence beside John, ‘they are going places they could never have reached before. It’s not so bad, really. It’s just that you don’t understand how it works’” (Expecting Adam 234).