“To be cast down is often the best thing that could happen to us.” (Charles Spurgeon)
It is rarely wise and often unkind to say what Spurgeon says while someone vomits from the chemo, showers off from bodily assault, exit interviews for their lost job, or weeps by the graveside of their child. In such moments, we learn from the best practice of Job’s friends. We say nothing. We sit in the ashes. We weep with those who weep. We talk more to God about them than we talk to them about God. We need not declare in these early horrid moments what grace and time in God’s hands can prove without our saying a word. So, we speak Spurgeon’s sentiment sparingly and in time, but nonetheless we learn to embody it daily. I say, “we learn to embody it” because we know full well that Spurgeon’s statement is not automatic. We know full well how sorrows can negatively change a person–it can harden us, embitter us, shatter our faith in God and make us cynical about people.
How then do we learn to embody a benefit to sorrow? Spurgeon points us to Jesus. Jesus is called, Immanuel, God with us. He is not, (as I often wish) the God who gives us immunity from the world or the God who gives freedom to choose only good things so that no neighbor ever chooses anything to harm another. Rather, God is the One who does not leave us when people, sicknesses, devils or the weather do their worst. Spurgeon therefore makes the healing claim: “There is no remedy for sorrow beneath the sun like the sorrows of Immanuel.” “The sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice.”
Jesus speaks to our sorrows and orders them to serve His purposes. Sorrows are caused by ugly things. But Jesus adopts them as it were. He brings them into His own counsel. The One who loves even enemies, probations our sorrows. He gives them His own heart and provision and house. Living with Him they reform and take on His purposes to promote His intentions and to reverse and thwart foul tidings. In other words, sorrows belong to Jesus. He is their master no matter what fiendish thought gave them birth. With Jesus having authority over our sorrows in mind, Spurgeon identifies a handful of benefits recovered when Jesus boots with us and shovels out our pigpen muck.
- Sorrow teaches us to resist trite views of what maturity in Jesus looks like: Faith is not frownless. Maturity is not painless. Disheveled and bedridden amid the jittery and unanswered; this is no necessary sign of wickedness. It is the presence of Jesus and not the absence of glee that designates the situation and provides our hope. Spurgeon says it this way. “Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace; the very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life . . . we do not want rain all the days of the week, and all the weeks of the year; but if the rain comes sometimes, it makes the fields fertile, and fills the waterbrooks.”
- “Sorrow exposes and roots out our pride: Perhaps we can think of it this way. When standing at a thrift sale, the saying goes, “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.” We often mix-up what Jesus treasures with what Jesus willingly gets rid of. Sorrows show where we’ve been passing over His seemingly used treasures with eyes wide for brand new nothings.We are very apt to grow too big” Spurgeon says. ” It is a good thing for us to be taken down a notch or two. We sometimes rise too high, in our own estimation, that unless the Lord took away some of our joy, we should be utterly destroyed by pride.”
- Sorrow pushes us to take a second look at ourselves, to be more honest about ourselves and our situations: Sorrow unthreads the hem of our rationalizations. Spurgeon says, “When this downcasting comes, it gets us to work at self-examination . . . When your house has been made to shake, it has caused you to see whether it was founded upon a rock.”
- Sorrow is a means of drawing us closer to Jesus in truer dependence: As a child I watched a cartoon. It pictured a Coyote trying to catch a roadrunner. The Coyote used a saw to cut a circle hole out from underneath the Roadrunner’s feet. But when the hole was completed, it wasn’t the Roadrunner that fell. Rather, the rest of the floor crumbled down all around and upon the Coyote, leaving the Roadrunner held and fixed in the air; his feet still standing upon his piece of floor. Jesus stays put though everything else fall around us. Strength emerges. Spurgeon says it this way, “When you and I were little boys, and we were out at eventide walking with our father, we used sometimes to run on a long way ahead; but, by-and-by, there was a big dog loose on the road, and it is astonishing how closely we clung to our father then.”
- Sorrow teaches us empathy for one another: “If we had never been in trouble ourselves, we should be very poor comforters of others . . . It would be no disadvantage to a surgeon if he once knew what it was to have a broken bone; you may depend upon it that his touch would be more tender afterwords; he would not be so rough with his patients as he might have been if he had never felt such pain himself.” Jesus shows us his wounds, the slanders, the manipulations, the injustices, the body blows, the mistreatments piled onto Him. From there He loves, still. He invites us into fellowship with His empathy. We receive it from Him in the deeps. Rarely quickly but often truly, we rise again and actually give, maybe for the first time in our lives.