As a college student, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but money was so tight that Raman noodles were my Sunday treat. I found a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern WWOOFING) that provided room and board plus ten dollars a month (and a daily pack of cigarettes!) for simple, manual labor. I signed up.
I talked with a few people who had “volunteered” in the past. They said that it’s difficult to gain the respect of the communal farm members; partly because the large farms attracted loads of volunteers; but mostly because the host members found the volunteers to be irresponsible, unreliable, and lazy.
I wanted the respect of the farm members, so I signed up for a small farm (in order to actually rub elbows with members) and I resolved myself to be responsible and diligent.
On the flight to Tel Aviv I read this verse: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Pr. 17:28). In my continuing determination to gain respect, I decided to speak less and listen more.
My siblings had been urging this practice on me for years.
It All Went Downhill Fast
My first job began at 4:00 a.m. I didn’t have an alarm clock so my roommate promised to wake me. But he forgot to set his alarm. Arriving late to my work debut, I desperately wanted to defend myself to my new boss, but the proverb—When he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent—was still fresh. Instead of blaming my friend, I apologized without excuse.
The next day he forgot again, but the verse still haunted me, so I apologized once more.
That evening I had a few hard words with my roommate—I didn’t keep completelysilent—and he swore he would remember. But he forgot. I was utterly humiliated and frantically wanted to impress my new boss. But I apologized this third and last agonizing time. With no defense.
On the fourth night, I stole my roommate’s alarm, set it, and I was the first to arrive for work. Later that week, my friend secretly confessed to my boss that it was his own mistake that caused me to be late three days in a row.
My boss found me in the cafeteria, told me of my roommate’s confession, and added, “Sam, most volunteers overflow with creative justifications for their untrustworthiness. You are my first volunteer ever to apologize without excuse. I will name you ‘Emet’” (which means “true”).
From then on, he insisted I eat with his family, and he introduced me to his fellow members of the farm’s leadership team with these words: “Meet my good friend, Emet.”
He never again called me, “Sam.”
God Frequently Takes Us on Paths We Don’t Expect
When we suffer loss—anything from tarnished reputation, rejection, theft, and even death—we want to get back to what we had before. But the gospel promises more than a mere return to our previous state of affairs. C. S. Lewis wrote,
For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity.
I felt stung for three, short days; Joseph endured many years; and Jesus suffered an eternity. God’s ways are better than ours. Even when they’re scary. Because God invented resurrection.
If I had avoided the sting of three embarrassing days, I would never have befriended my boss; if Joseph wasn’t enslaved, he and his family would have died of starvation; and if the disciples got their way, we would never have known the depths of God’s love nor the heights of his freedom.
It’s a spiritual principle that God uses our deepest pains to bring about our greatest joys. Restoration of status quo is child’s play; transformation of suffering into glory is the gospel.
The Principle of Transformation
Scripture predicts suffering for every human being. It may be wounding, rejection, marginalization, forgotten-ness, or maybe the untimely death of a loved one.
But Scripture also promises hope. Every page of the Bible explodes with a simple, spiritual, counterintuitive principle: God transforms our deepest sufferings into our greatest joys.
We need not fear our greatest fears. From a roommate’s minor negligence to the crucifixion of the promised messiah, God always resurrects inconceivable joy out of seeming inconsolable grief.
And that is God’s Emet, truth.