In my last post, I started exploring 5 things that the Bible teaches about sorrow and pain. I argued that they are temporary, reflective, and restorative. And that means that as difficult as it is for us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we are never to avoid it altogether. Sorrow and pain are healthy emotions given to us by God for our good, which is exactly my point in today’s post. The final two ideas that I’d like to explore in reference to sorrow and pain are that they are (or should be) sanctifying and that they point us to heaven.
4. Sorrow is (or should be) sanctifying.
In Isaiah 53:3, Jesus is referred to as “a man of sorrows,…acquainted with grief” and, in the very next verse, He is said during the time of His earthly ministry to have “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” If Jesus, the Son of God, can be referred to in these ways, then surely that puts our own experience of sorrow and pain into a different light. For one thing, it tells us that rather than being a sign of weakness, sorrow is actually a sign of incredible strength. Anybody can get angry. It doesn’t take strength to get angry. But it does take incredible strength to endure hardship and pain for any length of time and to do it well. Jesus was the strongest man to ever walk the face of the earth. He was perfectly strong and masculine and yet also perfectly humble and compassionate at the same time. He didn’t simply experience a bit of sorrow and grief here and there, but He did so to such a degree that His entire life could be characterized by it.
Besides teaching us that sorrow is actually a sign of great strength, the fact that Jesus could be called “a man of sorrows” also suggests that our own growth in grace will involve a growth in our experience of sorrow and grief as well. Obviously we know that Jesus is “a man of sorrows” in a way that none of us ever will be. He bore our sorrows, our griefs, and our sins in His body on the cross. None of us will ever do that. But there is certainly a sense in which, as we grow in our Christlikeness, we will also grow in our experience of sorrow. I will never die on a cross bearing the weight of someone else’s sorrows, griefs, and sins, but as I selflessly minister to others I will bear their sorrows and griefs to some degree by taking the pain of their sins and their hardships upon my own shoulders and sharing their burdens. Their sorrow will become mine. Their pain will become mine. And this means the more that I grow in grace, the more Christlike I become, and the more my life will be characterized by the same truth that characterized His: I will become more and more “a man of sorrows,…acquainted with grief.”
But it is also true that sorrow is sanctifying in and of itself, or at least it should be if we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death by faith. If we can trust the Lord in the midst of hardship, grief, and pain and entrust ourselves to His tender care even when we cannot see what He is doing, then sorrow can indeed be a means of growing us in grace and strengthening our faith. Jesus seems to suggest this in John 16:33, which we cited earlier: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” When we face hardship and difficulty—and Jesus says that we most certainly will—we are to walk by faith and not by sight as we pass through the valley, always looking to Jesus. That is where our hope and our encouragement come from, because it is Jesus who has already overcome the world and the trials and tribulations that are part and parcel of living in it.
Job exemplifies this faithful approach to sorrow and pain in Job 1:21, when he says: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And he does so again in Job 13:15, when he says: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” By faithfully looking to the Lord in the midst of incredible sorrow and pain, even though he cannot see what God is doing, Job not only exemplifies walking by faith and not by sight through the valley but he exemplifies how such an approach to trials and tribulations is used by the Lord to grow us in grace. Thus, after wrestling with the Lord (and his incredibly unhelpful friends), Job declares—in one of the most beautiful verses of the entire book—how his eyes have been opened to see more of the glory of God than he did before any of the sorrow and pain had come into his life: “I had heard of you [before] by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). Everything Job had known about God when his life had been easier and more comfortable was equivalent to only hearing about God. But now, as a result of trusting God through the valley of the shadow of death, he had grown in his understanding of God and in his awe of Him such that he could say he had actually seen Him.
Sorrow is not easy for anybody. It hurts, and sometimes—depending on the severity of the loss—it hurts incredibly. But if we can take God at His word and trust that He really will work “all things…together for good” (Rom. 8:28), if we can look to Him in the midst of the storm, we know that our pain and our suffering will not be wasted. Our tears, even if they are as numerous as the stars in the sky, will never fall to the ground ineffectually. God will use them all to grow us in grace and to open our eyes so that we, like Job, will be able to say, “I had heard of you [before] by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” Our God is altogether faithful, and He will do it.
5. Sorrow points us to heaven.
The last thing we need to keep in mind in regard to dealing with sorrow is that it should always point us to heaven. Revelation 21:4 assures us that in heaven God “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the[se] former things [will] have passed away.” This means that sorrow is temporary for the Christian, as we have already discussed. But it also means that, because it is temporary, the sorrow we experience in this lifetime should always direct our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to heaven where there will be no more sorrow, no sadness, no hardship, no pain, and no weeping of any kind forevermore. That may not lessen the sorrow and pain that we feel here and now. But it does give them context. As we grieve and mourn and as we cry tears of anguish and pain, we do so as those who have hope. We know that Jesus really is “the resurrection and the life,” and all who believe in Him will live with Him for eternity (John 11:25). That eternity will be completely devoid of sorrow and pain. Jesus, the man of sorrows, has guaranteed that. He entered into our existence, experienced sorrow and pain first hand (see John 11, for instance), and bore the weight of our sorrows, our griefs, and our sins upon Himself so that we might be set free of them for eternity. Though we face the night of weeping now, we do so looking forward to the day when all our weeping will be replaced by joy in the morning. Those of us who place our hope and trust in the Lord have this to look forward to no matter how profound the loss, how overwhelming the sorrow, and how deep the pain.