I know a lot of people who are going through deep waters, sorrow, and grief. Some of them I only know online, some of them I don’t know well, some I’ve just met and been introduced to their sorrows as I’ve been introduced to them, and others are my dearest friends and their sorrow is mine, too. Some of the trials right now are intensely personal and private; others are public and can receive some comfort and attention from others. I, too, have recently felt the deep pangs and pains of my own heavy heart.
Sometimes the sorrow stems from more than just personal hurt, but from the knowledge of, or even personal involvement in, a community or connection of abuses, tragedies, and atrocities.
In light of that, I have been thinking a lot about how believers sorrow. Often, there’s a false notion that when 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you do not grieve as others do who have no hope,” it’s somehow intended to mean that believers don’t sorrow at all and must muster up a cold stoicism to whatever hurt they would otherwise experience. This verse is speaking specifically about the deaths of loved fellow-Christians, and it certainly doesn’t mean believers don’t grieve even the earthly loss of fellow-believers.
Carolyn Custis James says it well in Half the Church:
[P]erhaps the difference between how we and the world sorrow is that we sorrow more, not less, and in our sorrowing we are entering in some mysterious way into God’s sorrow. We grieve individual losses, estrangements, prodigals, broken-down lives, the shattered dreams; he grieves a world of losses, a world of shattered dreams. We suffer the blinding ache of a parent over a prodigal child; he feels the same ache for a prodigal planet. His is the distress of a master craftsman over a masterpiece destroyed–for the way things are is not the way he meant for them to be. As we grow in likeness to Jesus, we will be gripped by the same sorrow over what is wrong in this world and over our part in it, and we too will weep.
The Hebrew word shalom is an extremely rich concept—it means full human flourishing in every aspect. When the prophets (like Isaiah) describe shalom, they assume it means spiritual conversion and true worship but also social justice for the poor and cultural products that glorify God, not ‘man.’
We sorrow a deeper sorrow in that we have tasted at least a small vision of what that perfect, God-created shalom should look like, yet knowing that is not what we presently experience. We simultaneously hope with a surer, abiding and eternal hope that can be found only in Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 indicates that even while grieving the deaths of fellow-believers that we ache for the presence of those who are absent from the body, but we rejoice that they are present with the Lord. And for the sorrows and sufferings that seem to carry an eternal sorrow, we know that one day He will bring eternal shalom in a present, forever-kingdom. He will wipe away all tears, death shall be no more, and our sorrowing will be ended. Our now-present grief will be passed away as a former thing. But for the present, it is true, genuine and deep grief. Too often we undermine the fullness of our hope, because we attempt to minimize the sorrow we feel.
Take heart, my friend, we’ll go together
This uncertain road that lies ahead
Our faithful God has always gone before
And He will lead the way once again