It’s a few minutes before 4pm. I am in my Spiritual Formation class. My phone beeps with a text from my wife. She is at the hospital for a routine pregnancy checkup. It reads, ‘Honey, the doctors can’t find Josiah’s heartbeat. They are running further tests.’ My mind races as fast as my heart. I don’t know what to feel. I’m shocked and rattled. I try to comfort myself, ‘Everything will be alright. Soon, the heartbeat will return.’ Scared? You bet I am. Confused too. Full of sorrow? It’s coming soon.
As suffering strikes, we defend ourselves with denial. I show the text to my professor and the class prays. Inwardly, I hope all of this is not real. Perhaps the doctors just missed Josiah’s heartbeat. Because this was a healthy pregnancy. Right? I mean, there were no complications until this point. But then, another text. He is gone. Silence. Then sobbing and a shower of tears. Suffering struck.
Sorrow as Teacher
King Solomon once said, “Sorrow is better than laughter” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). But in a church culture where teachers exhort us to declare positive things over our lives, we can easily dismiss Solomon’s point. Our natural reaction to agony is to rush through the motions, succumb to the emotions and be inattentive to the lessons. But Solomon says sorrow is a teacher. However, it is denial in the name of faith that is more natural and encouraged, not endurance.
Sorrow is a teacher. However, it is denial in the name of faith that is more natural and encouraged, not endurance.
In times of trouble we quickly learn that suffering is a double-edged sword. One edge reminds us that the tears of troubled souls are alien to God’s design (see Genesis 3:14-19). God made us for a world devoid of pain, resounding in goodness (Genesis 1:31). Therefore, suffering is strange to conscious creatures. The first two chapters of Genesis teach us that God did not create us to suffer. And the last two chapters of Revelation reinforce this truth. Indeed, in the new heavens and new earth, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Therefore, when my wife and I wished for the news of Josiah’s passing to be untrue, we longed for a day when indeed such reports would be impossible. That day is coming.
Suffering Strengthens Us
When Solomon says sorrow is better than laughter, he is commenting on the world we currently inhabit. To be part of this broken world means sharing in it’s suffering is inevitable (Romans 8:22). Now, although one edge of suffering reminds us that God made us for eternal life, the other shapes us into the saints that we should be. I know this is an unpopular saying. Culture tells us that the end of all human endeavours is the elimination of pain and sorrow. Such is the aim of the medical field, suicide, euthanasia and even ‘mercy killings.’
Believers know that God sovereignly uses sorrow to sharpen and shape us into people who deeply understand the cost and value of joy
Sorrow Sharpens and Shapes us
The Christian, though aware that suffering is a stranger to humanity, neither seeks it nor aims to eliminate it at any cost. We notice that when Solomon speaks of sorrow being better than laughter, he also says that by sadness of face, the heart is made glad (Ecclesiastes 7:3). That is, believers know that God sovereignly uses sorrow to sharpen and shape us into people who deeply understand the cost and value of joy. It is then that our joy overflows—independently of our circumstances.
The apostle Peter, when writing to persecuted Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor, reminded them that troubles and trials test, purify, and reveal genuine faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). This point is so crucial that Peter designed his whole epistle around the passion of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s suffering servant. For Peter, and indeed for the early church, genuine faith is shown by hard times. That is, a Christian is known by how they live when uninvited suffering attends to their soul. To follow Christ is to suffer as he did (1 Peter 2:21).
Hardship Fixes our Faith on Christ
What this means is that our faith must stand with or without material success. We must praise God when we lose our spouse, remain unmarried or childless. Though employment may be lost or painfully hard to find, we must exult in our God. Our confession must stay the same, even if cancer calls or the stock market falls. Christ must rule in our hearts. This is how sorrow spiritually forms us. I am not suggesting that it is easy.
Our confession must stay the same, even if cancer calls or the stock market falls. Christ must rule in our hearts. This is how suffering spiritually forms us
Oh, how my wife and I cried. We still do. And it is not that we have all the answers. We wish we did. But these are moments that ground us in Christ. It is here that God knocks down our idols and reveals the sufficiency of his Son. Identifying with the God of miracles is easy. Everyone sings praises – as we should – when things go well. But identifying with the crucified Christ is so hard that even bold Peter followed his master at a distance (Mark 14:54). And yet it is in such moments the world watches whether we truly esteem Christ, as we often profess.
These are moments that ground us in Christ. It is here that God knocks down our idols and reveals the sufficiency of his Son
Sorrow as a Powerful Witness
Josiah passed. Daily we miss him in ways we cannot articulate. But through that season, God showed us his powerful presence, through his body, the church. The doctors and nurses saw our sorrow and our assurance. They also saw how Christians loved one another through tragedy. A few nurses attended our memorial service, which is unusual. The doctor didn’t think we needed the hospital’s counselling services. He said, ‘We have seen what great support you have by your side.’ Affliction struck, but God used those wounds to witness to his goodness. His goodness that transcends material things.
So, when suffering attends to our souls, may we remember to slow down and see the salvation of the Lord. And even in our toughest tragedies, may we, with Job, confess, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21-22).