Tears of Grief and Joy

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

By Stan Guthrie

William Hade Swindal, my grandfather on my mother’s side, died of a stroke after a relatively short life of arduous work. He was 68. We kids were called into our parents’ bedroom and quietly told about Granddaddy. My older sister, Gina, and younger brother, Mike, soon ran out, sobbing. I just sat there, unable to comprehend the news. No one I knew had ever died. After the funeral, however, the tears
flowed freely and messily.

As I have gotten older, I have become a lot more used to grief. Despite God’s wonderful, unrelenting grace in Christ, the reasons have been many—an inability to play sports or  participate in other outdoor activities, loneliness, failures in romance, rejection, mockery, deep family disappointments, professional setbacks, declining physical ability, painful falls, and deaths in the family. While many others have experienced similar causes for grief, each of us has a unique constellation of sorrows. As Proverbs 14:10 says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.”

One of the places where I cry most often these days is church. Whether it’s a hymn, a verse, or a Spirit-empowered insight into God’s grace in my life, I often find myself on the verge of tears between 10:30 and 11:30 on Sunday mornings. I’d like to think I have attained to a higher level of spiritual maturity and therefore am more frequently touched by the Spirit of God. That may (or may not be) true to some extent, but I suspect that my advancing age and some persistent, unresolved emotional issues also play big roles. Regardless of the reasons, to avoid embarrassment, nowadays I try to remember to stuff a tissue in my pocket before heading out the door.

Several weeks ago, it happened again. As part of his preaching series on Job, Doug O’Donnell was reading the following Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Though I too have “been grieved by various trials,” that wasn’t the part that turned on the spigots. It was two simple words: “if necessary.” They are fairly common in our culture. An online dictionary defines this idiom as follows: “if it is needed.” Pretty simple. So why does it make me cry?

The verses in question, 1 Peter 1:6-7, present an unmistakable but softly worded contrast with the three verses that go before:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

The Apostle Peter has just reminded the Christian recipients of his letter that their heavenly Father has mercifully given them new life via Christ’s resurrection, granting them a permanent and beautiful heavenly inheritance and a sure salvation that one day will be revealed.

The contrast, for them as well as for us, is that now, “for a little while,” we face “various trials” and feel their full weight. We do not escape the pains of life in a fallen world and in fact are “grieved” by them. They may be personal, professional, or because we are Christians. And yet they are allowed by our loving Father only “if necessary.” Necessary for what, exactly?

Verse 7a describes the good for which He is aiming: the “tested genuineness of [our] faith.” It is not merely genuine faith; it is tested. Just as gold is refined in the fire to remove its impurities and shine even more brightly, so our faith is tested in the fires of adversity. The result: we will know it is genuine—and the world will know, too, leading to “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Both our salvation (verses 3-5) and our tested, genuine faith (verses 6-7) will be revealed at last when Christ returns, making any temporary, necessary suffering more than worth it—far more. As the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

Think of it and weep! No trial gets through to us without our loving God’s permission—and only then if it is both short-lived and necessary. He uses the lightest touch possible—and no more—to achieve His gracious ends. When we face trials, whatever they are, we can know that they will be brief in the light of eternity and necessary for our good. When we suffer, our Father is not angry, uncaring, or confused. He is gently working for our good, almost as if He is crying along with us. What a kind and loving heavenly Father we have!

Are our trials enjoyable? No, they are not. But are they necessary? We have God’s Word and the example of Christ that they are. No suffering is gratuitous or wasted. So the next time you face a grievous trial (and you will), try to remember this. And don’t worry if you shed a few tears along the way.

This article first appeared on the blog of New Covenant Church.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for BreakPoint.org. He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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