The Ridiculous Paradox of Suffering
September 2021 • Paperback • 978-0-8024-2175-3
Can joy come from suffering?
We think of suffering as the worst of all evils. Our culture tells us to avoid it at all costs. But can suffering produce growth in us when we learn to endure it . . . then value it . . . then allow God to redeem it?
John Perkins’ response to suffering at the hands of a white sheriff in a Mississippi jail became the springboard that God used to put him in front of U.S. presidents, international politicians, and evangelical church leaders. Perkins sees endurance in suffering as a virtue that makes us more like Christ and ultimately produces uncommon joy in the heart of the sufferer who trusts in Him. Christ walked the path of love all the way to the cross, and even in the midst our brokenness, we can do the same.
In Count it All Joy, you will be encouraged to lean into suffering when it comes your way, stand alongside others who suffer, and believe that God will repurpose your suffering according to His good plan. God doesn’t intend your life to be free of all suffering. Instead, He wants you trust Him in the midst of it and discover the unexpected joy that trials can produce.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. John M. Perkins is the founder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and co-founder of Christian Community Development Association. He has served in advisory roles under five U.S. presidents, is one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American civil rights movement, and is an author and international speaker on issues of reconciliation, leadership, and community development. For his tireless work he has received 14 honorary doctorates from universities including: Virginia University of Lynchburg, Wheaton College, Gordon College, Huntington College, Geneva College, Spring Arbor University, North Park College, and Belhaven College. In 2004 he partnered with Seattle Pacific University to launch the campus-based John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development.
When I went to the Rankin County Jail in Brandon, Mississippi to visit nineteen Tougaloo College students who had been arrested after a protest march on February 7, 1970, I knew there was the possibility of being arrested. I knew all about the dangers of racism in the heart of Mississippi. But I didn’t expect the level of torture that I experienced at the hands of the sheriff in the Brandon, Mississippi, jail and the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Those were the costs that many civil rights workers paid to turn the tide toward equality for all people. We’re seeing people who are learning about the high cost of reconciliation today, as marchers and protesters circle the globe. Many have been beaten; others thrown in jail. William Cullen Bryant said, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
I see truth rising today. There’s an old hymn that asks, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?” The hymn writer answered his own question by saying, “No, there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.” I believe that.
Even as I am in the grip of suffering at this moment, I know this to be true: that even as this body is wasting away, my inner man is being renewed every day. And I am comforted in knowing that, as the apostle Paul said, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
The first-century church had a good handle on suffering. For many of them, to name the name of Christ meant being sent to Nero’s chopping block. It meant almost certain imprisonment and death. For many believers around the world today that is still the case. There are still places where it costs your life to name the name of Jesus. Voice of the Martyrs is an organization that works to tell the stories of people who are persecuted for their faith around the world. We can be grateful that’s not the case in America. We’re not there yet. But there’s a shifting that’s happening. We’re turning away from principles that are rooted in Scripture. Some scholars who are futurists say that the tribalism they are seeing in our country could easily lead to genocide. The signs are already there. When armed militia threaten the lives of governors they disagree with, and there is encouragement to fight rather than to reason with one another, we’re heading into dangerous territory. The day may come soon when we will all need to be prepared to suffer for our faith. The church will need to know how to suffer well.
That’s true for the church, but it’s also true for every one of us. The enemy of our souls wants nothing more than to be able to sift us and shred our faith right now. His desire is to shake the foundations of your faith and cause you to walk away, convinced that Jesus is not strong enough to carry you through. I don’t know how he’s sifting you right now. He seems to be sifting the entire world with the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this, many of us are caught in the grip of fear and suffering from a virus that seems to be out of control.
You may be dealing with your own battle with cancer or some other serious disease. Maybe it’s the death of someone you loved dearly, a marriage that’s crumbling, financial collapse, or betrayal by a trusted friend. Suffering comes in so many forms. And if God’s Word is true, it will enter and affect each one of our lives in some way or another. Life is full of it.
So, this book is about suffering. But it’s not just about suffering. It’s about the paradox of suffering. The word paradox is from the Greek paradoxon, which means “contrary to expectations, existing belief, or perceived opinion.” A paradox is when you get what you don’t expect. You don’t expect to find joy when you’re suffering. I’m finding out that it is possible to have joy right in the middle of suffering. Joy is a deep feeling of knowing that everything is going to be all right – no matter how bad things seem to be.
John Perkins is a hero of mine that I’m honored enough to call a friend. His words have shown me the way forward even through the most difficult situations. But more than words, Dr. Perkins is a man of actions, living out a life of defiant love: showing what compassion looks like, for the oppressed and even his own oppressors. His story has forever changed my story.
– Jon Foreman
I thank the Lord for leading my friend John Perkins to write this timely book, Count It All Joy. Suffering is the only power that can prevail over this world of injustice. That means we are not merely available to our Lord; we are expendable for Him. And we are happy to serve Him, whatever the cost. John Perkins believes that, and his life proves it. Now his new book will help all of us walk with him on the only path that can change the world: suffering with joy.
– Ray Ortlund
Renewal Ministries, Nashville
Dr. John Perkins knows suffering. He has lived a life of enduring through trials. But as he so eloquently writes in Count It All Joy, “None of us want suffering, but when it comes—it comes as a teacher.” He has been taught by looking to our Savior, who suffered and counted it all joy. Take this journey of learning as Perkins teaches us through Scripture and life experience what it means to walk closely with the Lord and endure in this life. Count It All Joy is a needed word from a seasoned, wise, and godly teacher.
– Trillia Newbell
Author of Creative God, Colorful Us, A Great Cloud of Witnesses, and If God Is For Us