God doesn’t only promise to replace our grief with joy, but to turn it into joy. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20–22).
Jesus could have said, “Your grief will end, and joy will begin,” or, “Joy will replace your grief.” But these would separate the grief from the joy. Christ’s words connect them: your sorrow will turn into joy (verse 20, ESV). It could be translated “your grief will become joy.” The Message puts it, “You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness.” (Similarly, sorrow turns into joy in Esther 9:22, wailing turns into dancing in Psalm 30:11, and mourning turns into gladness in Jeremiah 31:13.)
A woman giving birth suffers in a way directly connected to her impending joy. The child comes through suffering, and therefore the joy of having the child flows out of suffering. God transforms suffering into joy. Joy both eclipses and redeems the suffering.
Moffatt translates Romans 8:22, “The entire creation sighs and throbs in pain.” There’s a radical difference between death pangs, which anticipate an ending and look backward, and birth pangs, which anticipate a beginning and look forward. The old, fallen, cursed Earth, convulsing and groaning in the final pains of childbearing, will birth a New Earth. Earth will not merely survive, it will live forever, in ever-increasing wonder and glory—as will we, its caretakers, redeemed and birthed through the pains of this present time.
In Tolkien’s Return of the King, Aragorn says, “Dawn is ever the hope of men.” King David wrote, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NASB).
The night may seem long, but the truth is this: once it comes, the morning will never end.
Neither will the joy.For more related to the subject of suffering, see Randy’s book If God Is Good, as well as the devotional 90 Days of God’s Goodness and book The Goodness of God.