This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. The J-Curve describes the pattern of Jesus’s dying and rising.
Like the letter J, Jesus’s life descends through his incarnation and then death, and then upward into his resurrection and exaltation. All of the apostle Paul’s descriptions of the gospel in some way trace the pattern of Jesus’s dying and rising. (Rom. 1:3–4, 1 Cor. 15:3–8, 2 Tim. 2:8, Gal. 1:3–4).
2. The J-Curve is the map of the Christian life.
That redefines our expectation of the normal Christian life. That is, we should expect a life of dying and rising, that continually re-enacts Jesus’s life. So when friends disappoint or families desert us, but we aren’t confused about our location—we are dying with Christ again, what the apostle Paul calls a koinonia (fellowship) of his sufferings (Phil. 3:10). So we still hurt, we still grieve, but now our temporary dying isn’t just little old me on my own—I’m caught up into re-enacting the most magnificent story ever told: the gospel. I’m not just believing the gospel, I’m becoming like gospel.
3. The J-Curve defines the shape of love.
That’s Paul’s point in Philippians 2:5–9. Jesus’s story of dying and rising defines our story. So I should expect in the good work of love to go through something that in a slight way mirrors Jesus’s dying. So the loneliness of singleness or abandonment or the frustration of living with a self-centered spouse or child, are a normal part of the Christian life.
Living in Jesus’s story draws me into intimacy with the Father.
4. We learn to pray in the J-Curve.
Living in Jesus’s story draws me into intimacy with the Father. As I re-enact Jesus’s dying, like him I’m weakened, I can no longer do life on my own (2 Cor. 12:8–9) so I cry out for grace. I learn to pray in the J-Curve. It’s God school of prayer.
5. The J-Curve isn’t just dying. It’s rising too.
Ancient paganism agreed with downward part of the J. The secret to life for ancient pagans was facing the dying, not running from it. Life is an endless circle of life where death has the last word. But Jesus’s resurrection told a new story, a story the world has never been heard before: life follows death. Resurrection is the last word! So not only do I have a map, but my map leads to resurrection, to hope. I’m not stuck in despair.
6. God shapes both the dying and the rising.
We don’t control the deaths that God permits in our lives, nor do we control the resurrections. Our temptation is to manage deaths and control resurrections. But God controls the shape, timing, and character of resurrections. It’s his story, not mine. But still, it’s wonderfully encouraging to know that resurrection is the final word. So even in my mini-deaths, like Paul describes in 2 Cor. 1:8–11, I can see God do mini-resurrections. I’m attentive to the story of hope God is weaving in my life. So joy keeps bubbling to the surface of my heart (Phil. 1:18–19).
7. The J-Curve cures bitterness.
Our usual response to the relational pain (betrayal, constant criticism, etc.) is to push away the story that God has permitted in our lives. That inevitably leads to some form or withdrawal or bitterness, the cancer of the soul. But by receiving the cup that God has permitted in our lives, we neuter the evil. We take the cup offered to us by the Father, so the other person no longer captures our soul.
8. The J-Curve cures cynicism.
If you’ve been beat up by life, then it’s easy to become cynical about hope. One of the insidious effects of our total depravity is to use depravity as a solitary lens to look at all of life. We become closet pagans seeing evil everywhere, suspecting the worse. We lose the resurrection perspective of Paul, always hunting for hope (Phil. 4:8–9). Without knowing it, we kill Christian hope. But educating our hearts about the present work of the Spirit (Eph. 3:14–21) in creating real-time resurrections begins to grow hope in us even in horrific circumstances (Phil. 1:19–26, Acts 16:25).
9. The location of evil defines three different kinds of J-Curves.
Paul traces three different kinds of J-Curves, all of which are defined by our relationship to evil or trouble. In the love J-Curve, I’m pursuing the problem. I’m committing myself to love. So in Phil. 2:5–6, Jesus descends in love into our darkness. In the suffering J-Curve, evil comes at me unasked. So Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–10) is unwanted and unasked. Paul just wants rid of it. Finally, in the repentance J-Curve, the evil is in us. I need to put to death the sin in me (Col. 3:1–17, Rom. 8:1–8).
10. The J-Curve stabilizes our emotions.
What an encouragement to see Paul’s full emotional “range” from anxiety and worry as he’s going through a death, then up into to joy as he’s tasting resurrection (1 Thess. 3:1–10, Phil. 2:25–30). A life filled with love participates in the life of the object of its love, so it feels anxiety and joy, stress and relief.