One of the most touching hymns in the hymnal, in my opinion, is Hymn number 124, Be Still, My Soul. It has an unusual effect the makes you want to cry, but if you're already crying when you start to read or sing it, it'll help you stop. At least, that's my experience with it. For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to highlight the last line or two from the first verse.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav'nly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Lately, I've been getting rather discouraged. I sometimes feel that what God asks of us is too difficult, or that He gives us commandments just so He can boss us around. I know that's a terrible attitude to have, and I know that He isn't just trying to boss us around. He's trying to lead us to the "joyful end," but what I don't get is why we have to pass through the thorns to get there.
The thorns are symbols of adversity. Adversity has different causes. Some adversity is caused by disobedience to God's commandments. These are either natural consequences of certain actions, which God tried to help us avoid by giving us commandments, or they are punishments from God, meant to discourage us from continuing in sin, so we can avoid facing even greater trials down the road. With that kind of adversity, the suffering is either something God tried to prevent, or a device God uses to try to steer us away from even greater suffering. If one is perfectly righteous and obedient all the time, they can avoid this kind of suffering altogether, thus, I don't think it's part of the "thorny ways" we have to go through to get to the "joyful end."
Another kind of adversity is caused by the unrighteous actions of other people. Because God respects the agency even of those who abuse it, He sometimes lets people do bad things to other people. For example, I could punch some random stranger, and I'm pretty sure God wouldn't physically stop me. But I don't think this is part of the essential thorns either. If everyone were following God's plan, we wouldn't be doing that to each other, so we wouldn't have that suffering we would otherwise cause each other. If that kind of adversity is truly essential to our spiritual development, God's perfect plan would require some people not to follow it. I somehow don't think that's the case.
Another kind of adversity isn't anybody's fault, really. This category includes natural disasters, illness, accidents, and general life-being-hard-ness. This kind of adversity happens to everyone, and there seems to be no real reason for it, except that it changes our hearts.
Adversity from any source can cause either of two reactions. Either we can become bitter toward God, blaming Him for our problems, or we can humble ourselves and turn to God for relief.
My adversity has been making me bitter toward God. Even now, as I think of some of the adversity that's "nobody's fault" and all the suffering it causes, knowing that it's all part of God's plan for that suffering to occur, and the appropriate response is to worship God and serve Him, and patiently endure all that He puts us through, I start to get the feeling that God may secretly be a jerk.
I know that's a terrible attitude to have, and I know that it isn't true, and I know who's really responsible for the discouragement I feel and for putting those thoughts in my head, but in my foolish, mortal mind, I wonder if all this adversity is really necessary. What good does it do (or is it supposed to do)? Isn't there another way? Can't people get to a joyful end without having to go through thorns?
I'm going to have to study adversity some more and find out what the benefits are, what the purpose is. Then I might have a better attitude about it. If I find out that all the struggling and suffering we go through in life truly does have a worthwhile purpose, it'll help me to be more patient with it. I'm pretty sure we can't get to the joyful end God has prepared for us without going through some suffering first, but I'd like to know why that suffering is essential. I've got more research to do.