October 12, 2009

Don’t worry, be sad

Sorrow is better than laughter? As a normal human being, I want to be happy, not sad. Why would the Bible say this?

The rest of the verse explains it a little, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Because the Bible is about the sinful state of humanity and our need for repentance and salvation, obviously this relates to being sorry about sin. Without that, there is no hope for the heart to experience a joy that is beyond mere happiness, a joy that knows sin is forgiven and I am accepted by God.

Our pastor preached from Nehemiah 8 yesterday. Part of this chapter says that “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Pastor pointed out that before that joy was theirs, the people listened to the Word of God and were weeping. He said that their sorrow was “the garden where joy grows.” In other words, without the soil of sorrow, repentance cannot spring up, and without repentance, no one can experience the fruit — which is the joy of the Lord.

I’m starting to think that God wants me to firmly understand this truth because today’s verse from my devotional reading says the same thing in another way. 

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
The world around me is involved in the pursuit of happiness. I used to be involved in the same pursuit, or at least in trying to reach that goal by their methods. These methods include having more of this, better that, impressing people, achieving, and so on. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with owning things or achievements, but there is another joy that lasts longer and far exceeds the happiness found in material possessions or worldly achievements. It is the joy of knowing that I am walking with God.

Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven as having so much value that it was like a man who sought expensive pearls. When he found “one pearl of great price” he sold all that he had to buy it (Matthew 13:45). I can remember times when I knew that I had disobeyed God and needed to regain that precious fellowship. To me, being in right relationship with Him was worth more than anything that I might gain by sin. This is a pearl of great price.

Deep and settled joy from Jesus has great value, but a value unknown to those who have never experienced it. For many, the sorrow of guilt and the hurdle of confessing and repenting from their sin is a high and difficult barrier. It blocks any idea of joy to the point that it seems far easier to rationalize, make excuses, or just deny guilt, hoping it will go away and they can be happy again.

The medical profession says a large percentage of illness is rooted in denied guilt, yet the person in denial will not see or does not want to see the connection. For them, the notion of sorrow being better than laughter is nonsense and a topic to be avoided at all costs, even the cost of their physical health and eternal well-being.

The book of Hebrews says that Jesus endured the cross, bearing the shame of guilt for our sins. He did it “for the joy set before Him” because He knew that saying yes to that sorrow led to the eternal joy of accomplishing the will of God.

That same joy of the Lord is given to all who will allow themselves to be sad about their sin. When I take my shame to the One who forgives all sin, He grants me the righteousness of Jesus Christ — including with the ever-present joy that He gives.

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