The Sadness That God Wills

Life has sadness. It’s unavoidable. In nearly twenty years of ordained ministry I’ve dealt with a lot of sadness. While some of that sadness belongs to others, some of it belongs to me. It’s not often that I get a call or a message celebrating a blessing in life, most often people reach me when trial has reached them.

I’ve been wrestling with a bout of sadness lately, thankfully not as severe or crippling as in times past, but present none the less. I cannot even put a finger on the cause, just a presence of sadness that brings tears rather freely.

Today I found myself sad for a man who lost his wife, an individual that I’ve targeted in years past during theological rants on points I am unable to remember. The moment humanized someone I admittedly, and to my shame, dehumanized.

The apostle Paul writes, “For the grief that God wills brings a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret. But the world’s grief leads to death” (II Cor. 7:10).

Translated slightly differently, yet pertinent to this thought, “For the sadness that God wills brings a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret. But the world’s sadness leads to death.”

The underlying Greek that I changed to sadness, λύπη, can mean grief, pain, sadness, or sorrow. While I do not diminish the experience of sorrow, grief, pain, or sadness, Paul’s words specific to godly grief, or “the sadness that God wills” changed my thinking.

It is surprising the number of famous preachers who suffered severe periods of depression, preachers referenced today with the greatest of respect. I was recently surprised to learn that a rabbi I’ve held in the highest regard experienced long periods of depression during his life. Yet, this has been sadness. I know depression, but I’ve recognized this recent period as one of sadness. Life changes. Things change. Circumstances change. On and on. But back to what Paul wrote: what God wills.

When you help others with sadness, let down, heartbreak, fear and trauma as often as I seem to, it can unintentionally numb the heart and soul. While you tend to the need, with the right actions or words, your heart can be unexpectedly calloused to the human, perhaps just not as feeling as one should be.

What Paul is saying in II Corinthians 7:10 is that God’s will in the sadness is that of salvation from it, as it leads one back to life, and in His will, life with feeling. Sadness that is of the world, or of ungodliness, leads to death – a helpless feeling of dread that one cannot escape from. Helplessness.

John Piper once wrote, “When sadness makes life heavy with tears, don’t stop doing your work. Take a deep breath. Own the sorrow. Trust God’s promises. Wash your face. And go to work.” Live. In the work, in the movement, you will find that you meet God’s will head on.

The God who has delivered me from so much is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8); and He has promised in His infinite goodness and grace to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). And since I am a work in progress, as you, dear reader are as well, I take hold and hold onto this: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah” (Phil. 1:6).

Sadness pricks the heart; and in doing so, by God’s will, we turn in repentance to Him once again for renewal, comfort, and relief from what is beyond our control. Sadness, grief, pain, and sorrow is part of the human experience, for the redeemed and the unregenerate. For the redeemed, perhaps it humbles us before Him once again; and for the unregenerate, perhaps it will awaken a need for a Savior, Helper, and Friend.

I do not have the answers yet, but I can trust in the One who does to awaken my heart with inspiration to once again, save me from myself, and baptize me in the greatest depths of His love. There are many causes of sadness, some medical, others spiritual, or physical; but the important thing is to never give up, or give in to it. Pray, and then keep your eyes open for the answer to the moments before you. Keep fighting the good fight, stay in the race, and He will finish what He started in you. He will give you His heart.

Be well. Shalom.

From the Outside…

Things are not always as they seem. Social media is not always what it seems. What we share as still moments do not always convey what the conditions or the situations before and after are. We see a moment, and either good or bad, we react – and those little emoji’s make it so easy.

The picture I shared was taken on a mountain top. The picture does not include what happened immediately before, and obviously, shortly after. The pic, however, looks good. It looks successful. It looks fun. Inviting. Yet, I can assure you, it, for the most part, was anything but good, successful, fun, or inviting; not because of the environment, but personal sorrow – no need for sympathy, I include this to make my point.

The picture does not capture the sadness before, or the sadness after. It’s just a still photo of a person somewhere in the mountains.

That’s one of the issues with social media. It’s easy to present one picture, usually the best one available, laying aside the unpleasant reality. And it’s easy to view one picture, not realizing the unpleasant life reality not captured.

My point is not to bash social media or we who share, but for us as social media consumers to pause, and remember something important.

When the king of Moab, Balak, sees the children of Israel in the wilderness from above and afar, he sees a beautiful, well-ordered camp moving. It is a terrifying vision for him (Num. 22). He hires Balaam to curse them, to destroy them by the power of his words. He cannot. He is only able to bless them, “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! (Num. 24:5).

Balak saw what he wanted to see. From a distance Israel looked perfect. Orderly. The presence of God manifest in the center of the camp. They were, in his mind, a conquering army set to topple him.

What Balak couldn’t see were the issues, the reality on the ground, in the midst of the camp that Moses had to lead through: the rebellions; the family squabbles; the complaints; the life issues that underlay apparent perfection. God was in their midst and working, but as humans we certainly have our issues.

It’s easy to judge our life, our experience, and therefore, our value by the perfect picture shared, the most liked post, or the exciting destinations traveled to by others; but what we do not often see is the reality.

In some cases, it’s the appearance of what people want us to see in order to show apparent perfection or beauty to build their brand. Yet, for others, they share, even without saying it, their victory in order to inspire. In that captured moment they are able to leave behind the often crippling life issues in order to share a moment of joy, not to influence for brand value, but to inspire others to take the next step, whatever it may be for them.

Israel was living; a nation of freed slaves learning to be a family and a people. Balak was assuming, and in that assumption he feared; and while Balaam was unable to curse from above, he shared with Balak how to destroy them from within … “send in your prettiest people, with good food, and tempt them to worship with you” (Num. 25:1-3). They infiltrated the camp.

Social media is what we make of it, the good and the bad. Yes there are many who use social media for their own gain; but before we lash out, criticize, mock, or become afraid that someone else is living the good life, remember that it may have taken them great courage and faith to get up, go out, and then share a moment of personal victory of overcoming in the midst of many, many setbacks.

As I wrote in a recent post: Refrain from forming and sharing an opinion of others, or dare I say, a judgment of them, until you know exactly what they are enduring (Matt. 7:1-2, 12).

Social media has trained us to view people with a particular lens, one of our choosing. I pray that we learn to see people with the eyes and heart of Christ, and from there share in their victories and trials, while not contributing to them.

Be well. Shalom.

Water: Provision Before the Strife

The unusual command of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19) is immediately followed by the tragic events of the death of both Miriam and Aaron. Sandwiched between these two moments of national mourning is the disqualification of Moses from leading Israel into the Promised Land.

I’ve taught in great detail on the incident recorded in Numbers 20:1-13, known as the incident at the waters of Meribah (20:13), the waters of strife.

The water had ceased flowing; and the rabbis connect this to the death of Miriam. The people panic. Moses, knowing that the Lord will provide water, does not panic, but scolds and responds bitterly, as we read in Psalm 106:32-33 , “And they provoked wrath at the waters of Meribah and Moses suffered on account of them; because they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips.”

This incident is a lesson for those being led, and those leading: 1) don’t panic, and 2) don’t be reactionary.

Why?

Just prior to the incidents described in Numbers 20, the Lord gives the suprarational command of the Red Heifer. While that is a subject too broad for this blurb, this command depends not only on the ashes of a Red Heifer, but also water.

In order to fulfill this command there would need to be fresh water in the camp, and the Lord knows this. He will provide.

Israel panicked. Moses reacted, bitterly. Yet, the Lord still provided (Num. 20:11).

How often when we find a lack somewhere in our lives, do we panic or begin to explore our own means of provision; or we react bitterly to the need, due to years of strife and struggle? In those moments, turn to the Word of God. His promise. And read what He has said.

He had just commanded the unusual, suprarational command of the Red Heifer (Num. 19), a key component of which is fresh water. At times we forget what He has commanded in the face of need, not recognizing that in the command there is also the supply necessary to do it, and to do life.

Water would flow, they just had to ask. Life would be restored. They just had to trust.

It is a blessing to know that even when we respond in a less than graceful manner, even in our frustration, that He will still provide.

Meditation: Psalm 1:1; Philippians 4:19; James 4:1-3.