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.