The Legitimacy of Sorrow
Perhaps it is appropriate (if entirely unplanned) that this post should come on a national holiday. One of the most often extolled virtues of the Republic is its optimism. Americans believe in a better future, one which can be achieved in this world through the right application of our gifts and graces. We see no obstacles which we do not believe we can overcome: no disease which we cannot cure, no enemy which we cannot defeat.
Yet optimism unchecked with a realistic assessment of our sinful world can be a serious handicap. Americans of our age have come to expect a simplistic, utopian existence. We become melodramatic about small mishaps, and our media has imposed a saccharine glaze over every aspect of life. Happiness is identified as goodness, and we long to fix every instance of sorrow which we find.
Yet sorrow is not always fixable. One of our cultural weaknesses is our growing inability to face sorrow. We are embarrassed when we cry, or when others cry around us. We turn funerals into carnivals and avoid the sick and the dying. Certainly Reformed Christians ought to have a more balanced approach to the fact of sorrow. Do we expect an unbroken placidness in this world of sin?
In the second chapter of Job, the three friends came with a good intent: they wanted to comfort their grieving friend. Yet when they saw Job, they could not recognize him because he was so transformed by his grief. Job was not engaging in self-pity; his sorrow was very real. His losses had been serious, he was in considerable pain, and he did not know the eternal end of his children.
The three friends were instantly silenced by the presence of great suffering. In their best moment of the entire book, they sat silent for seven days, waiting for Job to speak. For one week they were humble enough to realize that there was nothing to say. They knew they were unprepared to help Job in his trial.
Are we ready to face grief? One of the benefits of the book of Job is that it gives us a clear picture of grief. In the third chapter Job gives his opening speech, and in it we see some of the characteristics of sorrow.
1. Sorrow can be overwhelming. Job had taken in all that he could handle. Just as the mind can only process so much information before it overloads, so the heart can only stand so much sorrow before it is overcome. He was in such intense agony from so many sources that it could truly be said that he felt nothing but pain. He must have seemed a changed man to his friends, but the change was not one he could control. He had been defeated by sorrow, at least for a time.
2. Sorrow can be persistent. After a week the friends might have said, Alright, Job, its time to snap out of it. Sometimes we are impatient with those who grieve. Job explained, though, that his sorrows would not leave him any peace. They had robbed him of sleep, and in the absence of rest his grief became even more acute. Those who mourn may not keep to the schedule of others around them. We must be prepared for this if we are to comfort the grieving.
3. Sorrow can produce bitterness. The most memorable device of Jobs speech is his cursing the day of his birth. In fact, he does not just curse it; he goes into wonderfully poetic detail in cursing every part of the day! What was happening here was that in the intensity of his sorrow, even the good looked bad. His own life was precious, but he could no longer see it. He was temporarily blinded to the reality of blessing, and who could blame him? Sometimes in the midst of serious trial even good things will appear evil. We should not be too quick to condemn apparent bitterness in those who are suffering great trials.
4. Sorrow can produce despair. Closely related to bitterness is despair. If even the good looks bad, then nothing can inspire hope. Job clearly saw no way out of the pain and sorrow which had consumed him. It would be no easy thing to bring him to see the positive blessing of God in his life, for all was dark to him. Again, who could blame him? His sorrow was very real, and his despair understandable. He did not curse God, but he did not immediately see how the blessing of God could ever comfort him again.
In light of Jobs very real trials, the goal of the three friends - to comfort him - may have been unrealistic. They wanted to see his troubles fixed, but they could not be fixed. Sometimes we need to have a great humility in approaching those who sorrow, understanding that nothing we say or do will necessarily move them out of their grief. Respect for those who grieve may mean allowing their sorrow to continue. We do no good when we demand that the sorrowful jettison their feelings so that we are more comfortable around them. This is why the scriptures do not command us to successfully comfort those who mourn, but rather to mourn with them.
If we learn this humility, it will stand us in good stead when those around us are suffering. Above all, if we accept that there are griefs which we cannot repair, we will be more diligent in turning to Him who sympathizes with our weaknesses and griefs - the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself has borne every trial and shed every tear. Where we necessarily fail, He can give true comfort to the soul.
[url=http://crbcviews.blogspot.com/]Tom Chantry[/url] July 4, 2008