The Good Life: Joy Comes in the Mourning
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)
God is Good All the Time…
Certain phrases are put on repeat because of the valuable truths they teach. The frequent recitation exalts them to a litany and elevates them to a liturgy. One saying much beloved at my childhood church worked as a call and response. My pastor would stand at his pulpit and declare, “God is good all the time.” The congregation would cry in response, “and all the time, God is good.” This even functioned on a personal level between two individuals.
At the best of times this liturgy seemed trite and stale. At the worst of times, it came off as insensitive and estranged from reality. We were, after all, a relatively affluent church situated in a comfortably safe portion of the United States. Of course we could glibly spout, “God is good.” What did we know about real suffering?
Liturgy is an unadorned beauty, however. It may not shine or sparkle most days, but when pain does beset us—and it does strike, whether you live in an American mansion or a hut in the desert—the once redundant litanies become a steadfast companion. The repeated reminder drove God’s cardinal truths deep into my heart.
Truth #1: We will suffer
When I was younger, death seemed like a stranger I hoped to never meet. Every so many years, any elderly member of my church or a distant fourth cousin ten times removed would die, but the poignancy of their passing never entertained me personally.
Until March 2011.
For the decade leading up to that time, my grandma had been battling cancer. Though her malignant affliction remained in remission for most of those years, I knew it was incurable. In the summer of 2010, our dormant fears began to stir as my grandma’s cancer reasserted itself. For the sake of her family, she fought bravely for nine months. The dreaded phone call eventually came, however, and we knew: she was dead. In that moment, sadness dug a hollow hole into the tender soil of my heart. The reality, and inevitability, of pain became an unwelcome tenant in my awareness.
Truth #2: God is with us
Though pain is a promise, God’s footsteps beside our own bedraggled prints are a deeper promise. Sickness may afflict, financial ruin may crush our security, or brokenness may shatter our relationships. This side of heaven the Lord won’t prevent these griefs from striking us, but he promises nothing less than his own presence. Of this, Scott Hubbard wrote:
“Just because Jesus loves us and knows how to fix our problems doesn’t mean he takes a shortcut through our grief. The same one who raises the dead first stops to linger with us in our sorrow — to climb down into our valley of tears and walk alongside us.”
Whether it’s loved ones, dreams, or friendships, we will all lay something in the tomb. God himself, however, weeps with us beside the grave (John 11).
Truth #3: God knows our suffering and will bring justice
Tears are an appropriate response to suffering, for they acknowledge that something is wrong with the world. They are a wordless cry: “Come, Lord Jesus.” The One who bottles our tears knows each one cascading down our faces, as the Psalmist recounts, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8). He hears our prayers and will act on our behalf. The same God we implore to come and right every wrong will return to establish justice and wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). That is our joy.
…All the Time, God is Good
The liturgy of our lives can be a painful reminder that sadness will stalk us while we draw breath. The repeated promises of God, however, strike a note of discord amidst suffering’s song. Though we weep, we worship a God who weeps with us. This Father who sheds tears with his children will one day make all things right. His joy will come in the mourning. Clutching this confidence, we can firmly declare, “God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.”
For further reading:
Borgman, Brian. “Trembling Joy: Emotional Paradox in the Christian Life”.
Hubbard, Scott. “What God Says to Your Tears”.