Jasmine writing on how we can have joy in the midst of pain and sadness:
The Bible is full of stories about really sad people.
The Israelites, the Psalmists, the author of Lamentations–people who saw suffering vividly before their eyes and who personally felt the pain inflicted by sin. The author of Lamentations put it well when he said: “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of [my people]” and “[God] has made my teeth grind on gravel, and [he has] made me cower in ashes” (2:11 & 3:16).
The type of suffering that makes you sick; the kind of pain that shoots through your entire body. Bile, teeth being ground, laying face down in the dust. This is the flavor of suffering the author is speaking about.
Yet as we continue reading our Bibles we find that the sad people are actually the happy ones.
We read the story of Moses and the Israelites. Moses climbs a mountain and sees God’s glory. He comes down the mountain and sees the people’s blindness. And he keeps seeing their blindness to the glory of God, for years and years. And right before the end of his life, he walks up a mountain again and sees a land that he cannot enter into, the land that was promised to his people. He looks around him and sees his people, most of them still blind, still hard-hearted, still unfaithful to God’s covenant with them. So he asks, “How long?” (Psalm 90:13). How long until God comes near? How long until the people are healed of their wayward hearts? How long until Moses gets to see this? But in the next breath he shows the source of his hope as he pleads for God to satisfy the people’s hearts by making his steadfast love clear to them. He has hope that God is faithful, that God will make his love clear to murky hearts, and that this will be a cause for future rejoicing.
We read David’s poetry, his heartfelt cries of anguish: “How long must I…have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:2) and his hopeful response: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart will rejoice in your salvation.” A heart simultaneously filled with sorrow and joy.
We see Jesus, who endured the pain of the cross because he could see the joy awaiting him on the other side (Hebrews 12:2). In the darkest hour of his life, he had joy.
We find Paul, who says he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
How? The author of Lamentations gives us the answer:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (3:22-24)
The sad people in the Bible are also the happy ones because of their source of hope, their object of focus. The LORD is their portion, their focus, their hope. Sad people are given a sobriety that so many of us miss, and they are able to see a little clearer. They see that joy is anchored in hope, and that this hope is future-oriented, cross-proclaiming, and joy-saturated. Sad people can see: in seeing they obtain hope, in hoping they obtain joy.
Not windshield wipers, but goggles.
We’re not too different from the people we read about in the Bible. We’re in a season of sadness. I drive to work and at the same corner I see a different face holding a different sign saying the same thing: “I’m hurting, and I need help.” I go to work and I hear of a new student who has lost their life. I read the news and see people who are scared, confused and hurting. We see suicides, we see untimely deaths, we see hunger, we see poverty, we feel pain.
But this pain isn’t such a bad thing. It’s a matter of how we see it.
I think most of us have a “windshield wiper” mentality when it comes to pain and suffering. We see the flood of pain sweep in and cloud our view, so we turn on the wipers; we wipe it away, whether it be through distraction or humor or sleep. But as soon as we wipe it away, it floods back again. Our windshield wipers don’t seem to work, at least not for very long.
There’s something better than windshield wipers, but you have to get in the water in order to use them. You can’t stay behind the wheel with your windshield wipers on full blast; you have to submerge yourself in the falling flood. It’s blurry down there, and in many ways much more uncomfortable than when you were in your car with the faulty wipers. But stay down there and grab a pair of goggles, and you will see. You’re submerged in your pain, yes, but you can see down there, and the clarity before you brings peace. Soaked in suffering, yet able to see.
These goggles are the lens through which we view our pain. But they’re not just any lenses, they are gospel-lenses. They allow us to see the reality of our suffering, how it is working for our good and transforming us into the image of Christ. They help us see that this pain is producing in us a longing for when things will no longer be this way, a longing that is overjoyed at the thought of a sinless state and seeing Christ face to face. They help us see the cross, and in the cross we see our joy.
Remember Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy set before him. He had the lens of eternity, the lens of glory, before his eyes. He could see the goodness of his Father, the splendor of his glory, the future gladness of his people, so he pressed on. He could endure loving people who rejected him because he could see the Father’s delight in drawing hopeless humans to himself. He could endure the pain of the cross, utter rejection by man and by God, bearing the pain and suffering and sin of people with murky hearts and clouded eyes because he could see future glory. He conquered the full scope of sin through the fullness of his power and gave us hope: hope of redemption, hope of renewal, hope of joy. Christ is our joy, and we get to pick up our crosses every day and see the painful yet complete joy it offers us.
So we can lament. We can praise. We can do both because Christ has freed us from the crushing weight of sin. And now the pain and suffering we experience doesn’t destroy, but refines. It causes us to long more and more, and it plants our joy deeper and deeper. We don’t have to wipe away our pain; we put on our gospel lens, our hope-filled goggles and look through the pain toward the joy set before us. In the middle of our pain, through our hope for the future, we see Christ: our portion, our inheritance, our joy.
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.