Sorrow is restorative. It not only prompts us to meditate on the circumstances of our lives and our faith in Christ, but it is also the means whereby we experience restoration and healing. That seems to be the point of Ecclesiastes 7:3, which says: “for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” Sadness, in other words, is the means by which the heart is made glad or, we could put it this way, sadness is unto gladness. Sorrow is never an end in itself for God’s people but always a means to an end. In this case, we need to be reminded that it is a means to the end of restoration and healing.
Have you ever been to the beach on a day when the red flags were flying and tried to swim in the surf only to be knocked down by the first wave that came along and, before you could get up, adjust your swimsuit, and wipe the salt water from your eyes, you were knocked down again by the next wave? If so, then you will know what the Christian life can so often feel like for many of God’s people. Wave after wave of disappointment, failure, and hardship can so frequently overwhelm us and knock us to the ground. And before we have time to get up and reorient ourselves the next wave is bearing down upon us.
I can’t think about this idea without thinking about a couple in my congregation who lost both of their sons and one of their daughters-in-law within a span of a few short years. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for them to deal with losing one child, let alone three in such a short period of time. How does anyone continue to stand in the midst of this kind of devastation as wave after wave after wave knocks us to the ground? How does anyone even put one foot in front of the other much less “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances,” as Paul calls us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17?
These are questions we will all wrestle with at some point in our lives. We know this is true because the Bible explicitly states that hardship and difficulty are unavoidable for everyone who takes up their cross and follows after Christ. Not only is the Christian life one of incessant cross-bearing, but it is also one in which trials and tribulations are a necessary part of the world in which we live, as Jesus Himself promises in John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation.” We are not, therefore, to “take heart” in the absence of trials and tribulations but in the fact that Jesus has already “overcome the world.”
Peter, echoing the words of Jesus, warns us that we ought never to be surprised when the “fiery trial…comes upon” us “as though something strange were happening” to us (1 Pet. 4:12). Hardship and difficulty and grief and pain are exactly what we should expect to experience because we live in a world that has been infected and affected by sin and which is inhabited by people who have themselves been infected and affected by sin. The apostle John, moreover, associates weeping and mourning with death in Revelation 21:4, which clearly implies that until Jesus returns sorrow, grief, and pain will be as unavoidable as death. Not only will we all die; but we will also all experience the death of friends and family members as well. This fact ensures that we will all necessarily go through seasons of sorrow and mourning, sometimes to greater degrees and sometimes to lesser degrees. We will all face heartbreaking disappointments, debilitating setbacks, and demoralizing defeats. Thankfully, we won’t all have to deal with the loss of three children one right after the other; but we will most definitely experience some amount of disappointment, pain, and loss. We will know what it’s like to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4), and sometimes for extended seasons too. And that is something that applies to everyone across the board.
The Bible has a great deal to say about sorrow and pain, besides the fact that they are inevitable. In what remains of this article, therefore, I’d like to look at some of the things that the Bible teaches about sorrow. I will explore the first three ideas in this article and the last two in my next post. My hope is that whenever you may find yourself walking through the valley of the shadow of death you will be helped by these reminders. So, strap in; we are hitting the ground running.