Christ’s Promise of … Sadness?

Christ’s Promise of … Sadness? September 11, 2023

There is a meme currently making its way around social media that sounds appealing – if you don’t think about it too much, that is.  At first glance it seems to be quite on the money and actually a bit inspiring.  In part it says: “If you KNEW how [Jesus] can transform you, how He can take away all that bitterness, that sorrow, that hurt, that depression, anxiety[!]”.   If you only knew that He could do all that! (with, of course, the underlying unspoken assurance that He will be doing all that for you as soon as you surrender yourself to His lordship).

What then is the problem I have with this meme?  Isn’t it true that Christ can in fact remove all these negative states of mind, soul and spirit from a believer?

Yes, it is certainly true.  He can.  That is to say: He has the power and ability to.   But here again arises the age-old question of how we go about determining the will of the Lord.  It is not always His will to be relieving us of bodily ills, and – to take the matter to the next logical level – it is not always His will to remove from our minds emotional or psychological ills either.

My mother used to make the point that Christians can in fact suffer from mental illness just as they can suffer from physical ailments.  If we are not unduly surprised that a beloved brother or sister a few pews down the aisle at church fell and broke an arm, and simply ascribe it to those “afflictions” that Jesus said we’d be subject to in this world, then we shouldn’t be surprised that another brother or sister has fallen victim to dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder).

As for those “afflictions” Jesus said we were subject to, we don’t often realize that they include attitudinal afflictions as well as corporeal ones.  Bitterness, sorrow, depression, anxiety – they all fall under the heading of those troubles and tribulations Christ warned us about in John 16:33.  In other words, Jesus knew – and expected – that we would suffer from the whole daunting symphonic panoply of emotional miseries that we are, in fact, all too familiar with.  It comes as no surprise to the Lord that you are wrestling with a bitterness born of repeated failures.   He is not ambushed by the unexpected discovery that I am sick at heart, due to my own spiritual mediocrity.

In fact we are told to “mourn with those who mourn”.  Mourning (I don’t need to tell you) is a deeply painful and distressing activity.  But – like any other onerous activity the “old Adam” in us might balk at – it is something we subject ourselves to for the sake of other people.  Yes, there is, or should be, a difference between our mourning and that of unbelievers.  Ours should be graced with an underlying, foundational shalom found only in a permanent embrace from Jesus Christ Himself.   Nevertheless, the mourning we share with a grieving nonbeliever is not to be a phony, pasted-on mask of sorrow.  Our empathy is real, our sympathy just as real, and the sadness is genuine.  Union with God is not without a very real and periodic distress of our own personal spirit – the very spirit that has been reborn by the Holy Spirit, and sealed with the assurance of eternal bliss.  Recurrent pain (whether bodily or psychological) and unending joy –that is the unavoidable formula all of us are intimately “trapped” within.  And by “all of us”, I include Our Father in Heaven and His Son as well.


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