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August 7, 2020 | By Jay Ashbaucher

There are many things that happen to us in this life that cause us grief and sadness. We can be grief-stricken by anything that disappoints us, especially if we lose something or someone dear to us, needed by us, or greatly loved by us. Maybe we lose a job, a friend moves away, a lifelong dream we worked to make happen is shattered, or a loved one dies. Sometimes we can be in so much pain and suffering that our life spins out of control and we feel like things will never be normal again. It has to be hard to lose a long-desired dream, or a person we dearly loved is now gone, never to return. We cannot help but suffer deep heartache and pain in such losses. Christians who love and trust God have no exemptions from such hurtful events and pain.

In a world where death is an ever-present enemy, grief is common to all of us. And there is nothing anyone can say to ease the pain, at least, not early on in our grief. It is, and has always been, that suffering in this world is inevitable. Happily, as our Lord reminds his followers when we go through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for the Lord is with us (Psalm 23:4). One night, feeling bad for friends who just lost a child, I laid awake thinking about what it means to “fear no evil” in the midst of dark times of suffering. My first thought was that we can be assured the Lord suffers with us. There are only two times in the gospels where we read that Jesus wept. Both times were over losses. He lost a friend to death (John 11:32-36), and he lost his beloved people to suffer death in the coming destruction of their city and homeland (Luke 19:41-44). He was saddened, it was painful, he cried. As a human, I bet his heart ached, and he cried many times during his life; perhaps not outwardly, but inwardly. For example, there were times he felt compassion when he saw people as those without a shepherd. He came into this world, experiencing all the same kinds of pain we go through, so he could be with us as “Immanuel”, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is a man of sorrows, a person acquainted with grief, and he cries with us.

As I think of Jesus on the cross, suffering such physical and emotional agony, even feeling abandoned by his Father in heaven, I cannot help but wonder how he could endure it. This is the second thought I had as I was thinking about how a person must feel over his or her loss. How could Jesus, and us, endure such pain? It was joy; the joy set before him enabled him to endure it (Hebrews 12:2). Joy may seem a strange thing to experience in the midst of sorrow, but apparently, joy helps us to endure our sorrows. When King David lost his baby at birth, he said, “He will not return to me, but I will go to him.” Joy is seeing into the future and realizing the hope God promises us. When Jesus was on the cross, he must have thought about all the people who would be able to have eternal life and who would join him in the fellowship of his coming world. It gave him great joy to look ahead and see the results of his sufferings. It helped him in the midst of it all to see that the evils of death would not have the last word; a better day was coming. When Jesus heard the plea of the man dying next to him on a cross and saw his grieving heart, he told him that today he would be with him in paradise. It must have brought joy to that man’s heart and helped him endure his pain. The pain is not taken away, but joy enables us to endure it.

Think of that popular song sung in many churches, “I Can Only Imagine”. We do not know every detail our future holds, but God assures us that “eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). There will be great rejoicing and gladness when we one day experience all that God will give us. We may not know every detail, but there is nothing wrong with imagining. What if, in that future day, mothers in some way get to be a part of raising their children who were taken from them by death? I love landscaping, making things beautiful, and have never gotten to do it in this life. I can imagine God giving me one of those many seemingly wasted planets in the universe and saying, “Go landscape it, make it beautiful.” Of course, that is not what I would value most, what is to be valued most is our relationship of love with our savior and friend, Jesus. And the close relationships we will enjoy being together forever in a world of pure goodness, love, and joy. We can only imagine. But taking into account the promises God assures us in his word, there may very well be much truth to support our imaginings. The thing is, those thoughts of the hope we have in God, although not removing our sufferings in this world, does help us endure them. Praise be to God, the God of all hope. Death for the Christian is overcome by our Lord’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Death is now only a doorway into God’s heavenly realm. How can one endure the grief and sadness we feel? May you have reason to experience God’s presence and joy along with the heartache and pain of your grief.

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