Before Jesus prays His high priestly prayer (John 17) and is betrayed and arrested (John 18), He makes a point to tell His disciples that they will have tribulation in this world (John 16:33). One of the last truths Jesus imparts to His dearest friends—those that would play a significant role in the creation of His church—is that life will not be easy for them. They will have many opportunities to learn what it means to share in Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 4:13).
Life is not easy for anyone who seeks to die to their own desires and ambitions so that they may become a new creation in Christ. Evil actively works against us as we seek to cultivate goodness, beauty, and truth in our neighborhoods, our families, and our workplaces. We long to be like Christ, yet “do not do the good [we] want” (Romans 7:19). We lose jobs, fracture relationships, face health crises, and fall short of the dreams that seemed so possible before we learned how burdensome life can be. We are, by definition, a people who suffer.
When we’re in the midst of suffering, it can be tempting to want to race over the hurdles as quickly as we can to hit the “finish line” of relief. We cope by imagining what our days will be like as soon as things start to go our way again, about what happiness awaits us once grief leaves us in peace.
But in only focusing on the joy of moving beyond the trial, we minimize the purpose in our suffering and trivialize the beauty God wants to call forth in us as He remakes us into new creations. We miss the partnership of beauty and sorrow in leading us to long for more of Christ.
Makoto Fujimura, a world-renowned artist, author, and leader in Christian culture care theology, highly values learning to appreciate the beauty in suffering and the wondrous remaking from brokenness.
For Fujimura, creating beautiful art, like the traditional practice of kintsugi, helps him connect these ideas. Kintsugi “an ancient Japanese art form of repairing broken tea ware by reassembling ceramic pieces, creates anew the valuable pottery, which now becomes more beautiful and more valuable than the original, unbroken vessel.”
The pottery is repaired not to hide the cracks—the brokenness that robbed it of its purpose as “useful” tea ware—but actually accentuates them by gilding each so that the beauty of the gold stands out. An entirely new vessel is created through the delicate mending of the brokenness. The original has been made more beautiful through its slow, intentional restoration.
We have been remade as new creations in Christ. The suffering and trials that mean to break us–to rob us of our faith or our purpose–actually help shape us into beautiful vessels of the gospel. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, gilded in the goodness, beauty, and truth of our Savior who has conquered death. Our cracks and scars tell of the remaking power of Jesus; no wound is too deep for Him to heal, and no grief can separate us from His love.
Jesus told His disciples in John 16 that they would have suffering in this life, but He also reminded them to take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Jesus Himself was the embodiment of beauty in suffering. In John 11, we see Him weeping for His beloved friend Lazarus and meeting Mary and Martha in their grief. In John 4, He meets the brokenness of the woman at the well with kindness and empathy. In John 21, Jesus meets the betrayal and repentance of Peter with exhortation to shepherd the precious flock of God. In John 20, we see that Jesus’ own resurrected body retained the nail marks from His crucifixion, scars that told of the most beautiful suffering in history through the most humiliating form of punishment—death on a cross.
If Jesus is not ashamed of His scars, why do we diminish ours? If Jesus opened His hands so that the world could see the wounds that ushered in new life, why do we hesitate to acknowledge that our suffering, too, has purpose and beauty that can tell stories of our Savior?
The beauty in our suffering has echoes of the promises we’ll enjoy forever when we get to live in the fullness of God’s new creation. But for now, while we live and move and breathe in this broken world, we can lean into the difficult times that remake our broken pieces into valuable vessels gilded with the story God has written for each of us, testifying to transformation that endures for eternity.