After my junior year at University, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but money was tight, so tight that my Sunday feast was Raman noodles. I found a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern WWOOFING) that provided room and board, ten dollars a month, and a daily pack of cigarettes (!) for simple, manual labor. I signed up.
I interviewed several people who had done this work in the past. They said that it’s difficult to gain the respect of the communal farm members because because the host members found so many volunteers to be irresponsible, unreliable, and lazy.
I wanted the respect of the farm members, so I signed up for a small farm (to rub elbows with actual members) and I committed myself to be responsible and diligent.
On the flight over 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 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 my roomate forgot again, but the verse still haunted me. I apologized once more.
That evening I had a few hard words with my roommate—I didn’t keep completely silent—and he swore he would remember. But he forgot. I was utterly humiliated and desperately wanted to impress my new boss. But I apologized this third agonizing time. Without a word of defense.
That fourth night, I stole my roommate’s alarm, and I was the first to arrive for work.
A few days later, 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 Always Takes Us on Paths We Don’t Expect
Whenever we suffer a loss—from a tarnished reputation, to theft, betrayal, or even death—we want to get back to that place 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 slavery for many years; and Jesus suffered an eternity. God’s ways are better than ours. Even when they’re scary.
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 breadth 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; the transformation of suffering into glory is the gospel.
God invented resurrection.
The Principle of Transformation
Scripture predicts suffering for every human being. It may be wounding, rejection, marginalization, 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 tremble before suffering. From a roommate’s minor negligence to the crucifixion of the promised messiah, God always grabs inconceivable joy out of seeming inconsolable grief.
And that is God’s Emet, truth.