The Glory of Sadness

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  John 11:33-36

Lazarus has died.  This whole chapter follows the dying of Lazarus, the news delivered to Jesus, Jesus’ response and explanation of the events and His interaction with it.  Jesus understands it is happening to glorify God, not in some abstract way, but to provide a tangible demonstration of resurrection and His power over death.  Jesus knows that His delay in getting to Lazarus is a necessary part of this story and how the story is being worked out in those He loves dearly.  He knows that like Joseph sold into slavery, Moses being asked to return to Egypt, Daniel being sent into the lion’s den, Jonah to Ninevah by way of a whale and His own walk up to the cross, God’s story always takes His people through the valley of the shadow of death in order that they may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  And even with the confidence and certainty of all of this, Jesus wept.

We, generally speaking for humanity, don’t weep much.  We hide our tears.  We smile and are eager to minimize any feeling of genuine sorrow, dismay, heartache, disorientation, disappointment and especially despair.  We see these as a sign of weakness, a sign of short-sightedness, an indication that we are unstable and have lost our composure and control.  Sadness is categorically bad, or so we have come to believe.

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Joel 2:12

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Matt. 26:38-39

God commands weeping, Jesus wept and we are invited into these tears as a part of glorifying God, but how?  The way I typically think is to frame a situation rationally so as to make it less sad, more bearable, less awkward and less disorienting, more palatable.  And that is where the Gospel is missing from my honest interaction with the world that I claim needs a redeemer.  Sin and brokenness, death and disease, cruelty and division should not be palatable or bearable.  The fact that the girl down the street has had four miscarriages but has three beautiful children doesn’t diminish the intense grief of the friend who has just lost her baby in a miscarriage.  The fact that discrimination isn’t unexpected doesn’t justify it nor make its exclusionary actions less hurtful.  The fact that the sunshine will follow the rain and maybe even make a rainbow doesn’t make the rainy day less dark and wet and gloomy.  Jesus wasn’t afraid to acknowledge and feel deeply the sorrow unto death that is evidence of a world that needs redemption.  The story of redemption actually rests on the fact that the world needs it!  As Tullian Tchividjian wrote in his post “Minimizing Suffering Minimizes the Cross”, our need to be “ok” underscores our denial that anything is beyond our own repair.

So in that sense, we’ve got it right that sadness is weakness.  It is the weakness with which we are to approach the Lord’s Supper each week.  It is the weakness with which we are to position ourselves before our Father, dressed only in His Son’s good deeds and effective work.  It is the weakness out of which we can most genuinely love our neighbors.  It is in the weakness of such sadness that we begin to see Jesus more clearly and know Him more accurately.

My refusal to really feel the sadness of injustice, sickness, brokenness and sin is my refusal to really feel my need for redemption beyond what I can manage myself.  My need to skip over the valley of the shadow of death and focus only on the banqueting table, to say rather coldly in the name of pragmatism to Mary and Martha, “Don’t be silly, quit your crying, he’s going to be resurrected in a few minutes”, is my need to stay numb to the realities that sin is really bad and big and way beyond my reach to clean up, redress, edit or repackage.  In Africa and in many communities even in the U.S., people refuse to be tested for HIV because the consequences of a positive result seem too devastating.  People would rather die of unknown causes than face their fears of stigma or long hospital stays or medical dependencies.  So, not only has the disease spread as it has been denied and ignored, hundreds of thousands have died from something that modern medicine can now make undetectable and practically inconsequential.  The infected person who is unwilling to face the gravity of their disease ends up dying after intense suffering when medically, like malaria, there is now an easy prevention and counter attack for that.  Because there is a remedy, there can be less fear in the diagnosis.

As a Christian it is no different.  Because I do have a redeemer, because not only the resurrection but also total restoration is now a promise, like Jesus I can weep for the gravity of the need for it.  I can face the problem with my eyes wide open rather than deny or minimize it.  It is the very hope of the Gospel that gives me permission to feel deeply the weighty sadness of my need for it.

From: Go to Dark Gethsemane  by James Montgomery, 1771-1854

               Go to dark Gethsemane,

               ye that feel the tempter’s power;

               your Redeemer’s conflict see,

               watch with him one bitter hour.

               Turn not from his griefs away;

               learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

 

Groaning

Sadness has landed on me like a weighted vest this morning.  Walking through a conflict of justice with those who do harm not out of malice but out of ignorance is messy, disorienting and exhausting.  The bottom line struck me out of a sentence Terrell wrote to some friends this morning as he was processing his current position.  He is advocating that friends of ours who are involved with the place where Martha Jane is not welcome continue to be there because that will better serve redemptive ends long term, “so that our world actually stays connected to the world of those that are shutting her out.”  This is the reality, that others are intentionally and unapologetically shutting her out, that brings the tears and tightens the weighted vest.  But Terrell’s words sure sound like the Gospel, compelling us to move toward others even though it costs us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Is. 53:5

There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother and He knows what it is to be misunderstood, unjustly judged and rejected by the very ones He came to serve, love and ultimately redeem.  And that is our hope, that He is redeeming His creation and restoring shalom.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24

What I love about these verses is that big word “if”…Ha ha!  “IF there is any offensive way in me…”  Um, yeah, I’m going to guess the answer is unequivocally “Yes.”  I have excluded others countless times because I feared the cost would be too great, that if I once said “yes” to their desire for my conversation or time or energy, they would suck it dry and take more than I was willing to give.  This really shouldn’t be stated in the past tense.

Re-creation, resurrection and redemption always begin with a flood, with death, with the mortification of the sin and weeds and disease.  By His wounds, thankfully, we are healed.  Lord, please have mercy on us in the midst of the painful process.  And please, Lord, let our groaning look forward to shouts of joy on that Day, when faith is made sight.

Participating in His Divine Nature

If I could choose a divine nature to take on for myself, I would definitely be like the Greek gods, enjoying festivals and power and authority and the comfort of lounging by clear pools while being served goblets of wine.  Should adversaries arise, I’d just use my superpower to silence them.   I am frequently tempted to use the secure position I’ve been given in God, by the work of Jesus, to serve myself and condescendingly silence my opposition.  I clearly don’t understand His divine nature.

We had a surprising phone call last night, which initiated a series of confusing interactions regarding our youngest daughter and her participation in a local mother’s morning out program.  The exact nature of the conflict shifted from conversation to conversation, but somewhere in the mix is the fact that she is HIV positive and one of the teachers is not comfortable with that.

I was met first with sadness, as tears unexpectedly poured out of me.  My husband was immediately angry.  Ultimately, we were both perplexed by the whole circumstance and the way it unfolded.  Naturally, we’d like to reprimand them, hold them accountable and maybe even punch somebody in the face.  But God invites us into something better.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  2 Peter 1:3-4

As I heard Kevin Twitt say in a sermon, the Gospel moves us, even compels us, into perplexing relationships, not away from them as our flesh begs.  My human nature wants merely justice.  God is just and the One who justifies, by moving into the disorienting with the goal of  re-orienting His creation to Himself.  I want to win.  Jesus wants to reconcile, restore and redeem.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Romans 8:20-22

My natural man wants to avoid and run from frustration at all costs.  I don’t like to be frustrated, perplexed, or even disoriented.  I don’t like conflict in most forms.  But the God man willingly drinks from that cup not for some delusional sense of martyrdom, but with the ultimate goal of birthing new life.  Nobody wants to experience the pain of childbirth for the excruciating pain itself.  However, mothers for generations throughout all of history have suffered in such an undignified (and at times life threatening) manner because of the new life that emerges through it.  So it is with God’s divine nature and His promises to restore all things.  The person and work of Jesus, in whose life and nature we participate, compels us to share in His suffering that we may also share in the resurrection.  The divine nature offers us something better than escape from trouble.  It offers us transformation through it.

Tim Keller was quoted in that same sermon of Kevin Twitt’s, summarizing the scene of Jesus at the wedding making wine for the guests.   Keller said, “Jesus was in the midst of great joy sipping from the cup of sorrow that He knew was coming so that we, in the midst of great sorrow, can sip from the cup of joy.”  This is the nature we have been invited to participate in, one that willingly shares in the cup of sorrow to share generously the coming cup of joy.

As we move forward through this perplexing situation, we don’t go into it alone nor unnecessarily.  Through this groaning, may He birth new life both in those ladies and in us.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.  Gal. 3:13-14