“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” Jesus (John 16:20)
People are in pain today. Evil dealt another crippling blow last week. Injury has occurred, deep gaping wounds abound that no weekend can restore. The TV personalities are awash with confusion, condemnation and even atypical compassion. How are we to deal with this sting of death? What is the method to heal the throbbing hurts? How do we begin to bind up broken hearts? What do we say to friends, neighbors and family? What do we say to ourselves when the madness of the world strikes out against our souls?
In the book of John’s gospel, we encounter a discussion between Jesus and his disciples. The context is a conversation about his impending crucifixion and as usual they are entirely confused. They can’t fathom Jesus not being there. They can’t process the possibility that life as they know it could change. They are certain that tragedy wont collided with their lives. But Jesus, as he always does, lovingly leads them to confront the world as it is, to see the reality of their own hearts and difficulty of swimming against the current of sin, which is what one does when they follow him. Here in this chapter he invites us to look past our idealism and to take a good long look at reality and our response to it. He explains how the world works and what it looks like to walk with him through it.
SUFFERING IS CERTAIN
“In the world you will have tribulation.” These are Jesus’ words to us about how the world works and how it will impact the physical, emotional and spiritual make up of our human experience. The world is hard and harsh because sin is so. It is impossible to find perfection and peace in a fractured, fallen and rebellious world. If you are born into this world you will experience the consequences of sin. If you are at all engaged in life you will feel the sorrow of separation, the suffering of injustice, the bruises of brokenness and the crippling sting of death. We live in and contribute to a world, that left to it’s own devices wants nothing to do with God, but desires everything to be like heaven. As long as you and I are alive we will encounter suffering and sorrow. There will be terrible trials and great grief, but take heart because Jesus also gave us hope saying, “I have overcome the world”.
PEACE IS POSSIBLE
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” Why is Jesus so blunt? First, because our sinful hearts are numbed by and blind to the way the world really is and hard truth and harsh tragedy are often the only things that shake us from our delusion. God wants to wake us up to the fact that things are not what they seem and definitely not how he wants it to be. God made his world good – really good. He created it with love and crafted it in kindness. There was peace between he and man and among all of his creation. There was no sorrow or suffering. There was friendship, harmony and joy. The good news is God wants to repair the effects of sin, undoing all evil, rescuing what is lost and healing all that hurts. When our hearts encounter tragedy the eyes of our souls see into eternity, simultaneously feeling the depth of our weakness, the expanse of the emptiness wrought by sin and intense desire for restoration – a profound longing for a depth of repair and renewal that only God can provide.
Jesus came from the Father with Good News. Good News that with his perfect life, through his painful death on the cross and with the power of his resurrection he could and would restore peace. Christ came to address suffering by suffering. Showing his concern for us, and sharing in the sorrow with us. God relates as well as rescues. Peace is possible, even in the midst of great disaster and despair because Jesus is peace, and whoever believes in him is reconciled with God, rescued from the penalty and power of sin to one day be with him, removed from the presence and affects of sin.
JOY IS AVAILABLE
“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” The bible teaches us that genuine joy is found in the presence of God. When Jesus died on the cross he was making a way for those who believe in him to walk from one world of brokenness and death into a new world, his world, one devoid of sin and removed from eternal suffering. He was inaugurating his kingdom, a dominion without sadness, tears and tragedy.
In his resurrection from the dead, Jesus overcame the world. He defeated sin, the Devil and death; inviting us into a new reality, one that is both now, but not yet. He is alive today having promised to return, giving us tremendous hope to endure, and one day casting all evil away from his presence and ours. We live as Christ Followers rejoicing in our present redemption, celebrating our son-ship and anticipating our saviors return. We can have joy in the midst of sorrow and confidence in the center of chaos and calamity.
The proper response for Christians in living in this world is to grieve with those who grieve. We should be angry about evil, weeping over the loss of life and painful effects of sin. We should also be a people of hope, trusting in the mysterious goodness of God, the return of Christ and his restoration of all things. Finally we should help, praying for the hurting, for the churches and pastors in communities laboring to love and serve those suffering, and we should be engaging in our own communities; relationally ready for the day when we endure our own tribulations, because they will come, great or small, Jesus all but guaranteed it.
And what if you don’t know peace and are struggling to find a deep and lasting joy, Jesus extends an invitation in the midst of this instability. In this moment of confusion and questions perhaps there is indeed some grace. What if in this context he as brought about a sobering clarity about the world, about your own life and in love is offering an unexpected answer. One that says God does in deed care about this place, about these catastrophes and even about you. May this be a summons to experience peace, a soothing balm for our suffering and a solution to our despair.
“Do you now believe”? That was Jesus’ follow up to the disciples as they began to grasp what he was saying. He called them to respond, both to the weight and gravity of the situation, but also to the way and grace he presented. He called them to see a hope beyond the hurt and life beyond death. He called them to himself, to repentant of unbelief, for our own sinful contributions to the chaos and to a faith not in themselves or anything else in this world, but a trust instead placed upon him, dependent upon his person and work, hoping in his resurrection and promised return.
“I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”