Paradoxical Kingdom – Grief & Joy

James 1 tells us to, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (1:2-4 Bold added)

How can you be joyful in the face of grief and sorrow? It doesn’t make sense. The world definitely doesn’t offer or understand this, and even many Christians are perplexed by this thought. The world tells you to hate, reject, or identify with what has grieved you. The Lord instead says that it is a tool in His kingdom to produce endurance and maturity in you.

The world says these hardships diminish and slow down what you’re trying to achieve, so keep going and don’t let it get to you. Or, they tell you that you are a victim and should identify as such. The Lord tells you that He will use it to strengthen you and to courageously walk “in the valley” with Him in order to overcome it.

Jesus was not blind to grief. He didn’t turn away from it or ignore sorrowful people. In fact, He had great compassion for them. He told Christians to help the widows and the orphans, the poor, needy, and oppressed. He instructed you to look to Him at all times, even in your grief in order to find abundant life. In fact, Jesus endured a lot of grief throughout the Bible and His human lifetime.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:3-4

People rejected and turned away from Jesus. He was despised by His very own nationality. He experienced pain and sickness. He also knew the sorrow of losing a loved one. It said that “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35) when his dear friend Lazarus died. Jesus also lost His earthly father Joseph at some point. He grew up poor. He was misunderstood by His siblings and even His friends.

37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:37-39

Jesus even understood the deep grief of impending death. He knew how brutally it would end. He endured the pain of flogging, beating, and crucifixion. He also took on the full weight of sin. Try to even remotely fathom His great love for you in that. You know the sins you’ve committed. He took on every single one of those for you – and of the world.

There’s the grief of things caused beyond your control like we’ve talked about. Then there’s another kind of grief. That of sin.

Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. After looking around at them with anger, he was grieved at the hardness of their hearts and told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” Mark 3:4-5 (Bold added)

Jesus grieved the hardness of the religious leaders’ hearts as they were so caught up in rituals that they missed the beauty of God’s work right in front of them.

The apostle Paul gives great account to why working through grief is so good for you. This next paragraph was written in correspondence to another letter he had previously written to the Corinthian church.

 For even if I grieved you with my letter, I don’t regret it. And if I regretted it—since I saw that the letter grieved you, yet only for a while— I now rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death. 11 For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you showed yourselves to be pure in this matter.” 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (Bold added)

This is where the paradox takes place:

God allows you to feel grief in/from sin in order to lead you to repentance and bold salvation.

Worldly grief leads to death.

Godly grief makes you see your sin and the need of a Saviour. It takes what is broken in you and causes a thirst to “clear yourselves”. King David wrote in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (vs. 10, ESV) With a repentant heart, the Lord ministers and works to do the “cleaning.”

The world offers no lasting remedy for your grief. But God, in His loving kindness gives you joy.

There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” Ecclesiastes 3:4

Though you may be overwhelmed by tragedies, sin, and circumstances that bring grief to you, there are also times to laugh and dance. Grief has an end. Joy has the victory. By purifying your heart by the Holy Spirit’s work, you can enter into God’s rest and be filled with His joy by the healing He brings to your soul.

“But I will sing of your strength
and will joyfully proclaim
your faithful love in the morning.
For you have been a stronghold for me,
a refuge in my day of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

“When I am filled with cares,
your comfort brings me joy.” Psalm 94:19

Whether in trouble or in worries of this world, the Lord understands. As you’ve seen today, Jesus has felt each kind of grief. He’s suffered illness and rejection. He’s experienced the pain of loss and death. He’s felt unfathomable grief in the few hours He had left in His human life. He, more than anyone in this entire world, understands mourning and the weight that it bears. But He, more than anyone, understands the pure joy that comes from walking through that grief and into the fullness of God’s great and satisfying joy.

“Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 (Bold added)

Grief to the world seems pointless and too much work. It’s better to cover it up, act like nothing happened, and move on. Shame likes to attach itself to grief. Anger and fear try to overwhelm it. It takes great effort to endure through grief. But, whether it’s circumstantial grief, or that of sin as you’ve read from Paul’s account, it all produces a more purified heart in you before the Lord. This in turn prepares you for dwelling with your Lord and Saviour when this earth passes away and His new kingdom comes.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:2-5

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