It’s a Friday evening, I’ve enjoyed a really good meal. The working week is over. I have a pleasant weekend planned, filled with catch-up calls with friends and sleep to catch up on. Life is relatively comfortable at the minute.
And yet I can’t shake this feeling at the back of my mind that I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The goodness of any given moment is slightly marred by the anticipation of something bad approaching.
Wow, even as I type this out, I realise how ridiculous this sounds…
Irrational. Foolish. Faithless.
And yet this is how I realise I have lived a lot of my life, enjoying the good, awaiting the bad; thinking I’d better enjoy this blessing as the next moment might snatch it away. Anxious thoughts swirl in my head constantly, worst-case scenarios being a default concern. I wonder if you resonate with any of this.
Regardless, these thoughts remained somewhat beneath the surface. Right until a participant, giving words to my anxieties, asked something along the lines of, “How do I live when I am waiting for the other shoe to drop?” at the GCN conference, Godly Sorrow, Godly Joy.
The two-day zoom conference was a mixture of Scripture and stories, songs and a sermon.
What first stood out to me was something from John Piper’s keynote address regarding the nature of sorrow and joy. This thought helped to shape my understanding of what was shared in the rest of the conference. He said that both these deep emotions can be both sequential and simultaneous. In describing the former, certain verses in the Bible, describe joy as coming after pain (sequential).
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5b
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy John 16:20b
This is certainly the way I used to think of suffering; tahan a bit now, it’ll all be better later. It’s definitely the case in the ultimate sense as we see in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”. However, surely that’s not the full picture, that joy is reserved for eternity and we can only experience sorrow now. John Piper went on to explain that many passages of Scripture also refer to joy and sorrow as simultaneous experiences.
…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3b-6
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10
The seeming contradiction in being able to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously can be true because our reasons for joy and sorrow are themselves different. My life here on earth is still filled with sin and marred by the effects of our rebellion against God. There’s no denying that reality. However, as much as I cannot avoid the sorrows of this world, in Christ, I cannot ‘avoid’ the goodness and faithfulness of God. It is as I fix my eyes on Jesus, what He has done, and the promises He is bringing to fruition, that I can know the joy of the Lord, regardless of my earthly situation.
To quote John Piper, “You cannot keep the sorrow from coming but you can keep the joy from going.”
What hope we have then, as followers of Christ, to know that God isn’t just limited to working through good and comfortable situations. Through the hardest of circumstances, He is able to sanctify us, to make us more like Him and to show us his arms of everlasting love.
Going back to the start, although I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, I don’t have to do that in Christ! I don’t have to fearfully brace myself for hardship. I don’t have to avoid pain, discomfort or suffering. Not because sorrow is somehow less real… It still is. And I know that there will come incredibly dark days, where sorrow is a right and appropriate response to pain experienced. But I also know that in every single circumstance I will face in my life, the good, the bad and beyond, not only is God with me, but He is teaching me, growing me and giving me no other option but to depend on Him. Charles Spurgeon famously said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages”. When our face is pressed against that unmovable Rock, we finally realise we have nowhere else to go. Sometimes it can be the hardest situations that allow us to experience the sweet closeness of our heavenly Father.
It is not my intention to sound glib or gloss over people’s real experiences of sorrow. There are depths of sorrow that cannot be put into words. Yet I humbly put forward that the eternal God of this universe Himself experienced the deepest sorrow of all. He was separated from His Father as He died on the cross to give us His righteousness and to remove our sin and shame. It is because of His sorrow that our sorrow is never without the certain joy of knowing we have been reconciled to God. Sorrow and joy may be parallel experiences but we are assured that while our sorrow has an expiration date (Revelation 21:4), our joy will multiply each day as we walk into eternity.
What hope. Surely, Christ is enough.
Video recordings from the Godly Sorrow, Godly Joy Conference can be purchased here. Enroll to access the full suite of videos or sign up for a free account to view selected content.