Recently, I shared a message at a care center on finding joy in trials. Typically care centers are not places filled with joy, but they are filled with trials. As I spoke, I looked into the faces of the attendees, some in their 80s, some in their 90s, all familiar with pain. I was woefully under qualified to be speaking to them about this. Fear crept in. Could I discourage them by encouraging them to seek joy in trials if they had found none? Would they feel like a lesser Christian if they weren’t always singing in the rain?
As Christians, we worship a great redeemer. Implicit in that, is the belief that no matter how bleak the situation, no matter how “great the pain of searing loss” He will always redeem our losses for His purposes and glory. His very plan of salvation – laid down before the foundations of the world, played out through crucifixion and an empty garden tomb – was to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. With this gift, we are able to seek His mind and find joy even in the darkest times.
But what happens if, from the Pit of Despair (cough), we can’t clearly see a path to rejoicing? Or, we see it but cannot accept it? What if our hearts are just too broken? Is it a Christian’s duty to always put on a happy face and sing in exultation with choirs of angels at a cancer diagnosis, or can we hum a tune with the Man in Black for the poor and beaten down (especially if we’re poor and beaten down)? Is it a failure of faith to look at the darkness around (and sometimes inside) and despair?
When I see the pain of torture and death in Nairobi and Pakistan and Syria; when I lose a loved one; when I lose a job (btw, thanks congress) when my apathy shames me; when I lose my identity; when my sin stares me in the face and pierces my soul, my knees buckle. When darkness surrounds, the words of Psalm 88 echo in my brain:
My eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
And there is Jesus saying: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Spurgeon says: “One would have thought mourning and being blessed were in opposition, but the infinitely wise Savior puts them together… What he has joined together let no man put asunder.”
When we are downcast and dry, weary of our brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us, feeling empty and lost, it is not a failure of faith. We can cry out to God with honesty in our weakness. We can mourn, and in mourning find comfort and in comfort, joy.