Sadness is sometimes normal

I have a strange relationship with sadness. Sometimes I just feel sad and I don’t really know why. A number of years ago I suffered from depression and getting better, it seems, is not a case of not feeling sad for no particular reason but simply learning manage those emotions. For me at least, sadness is sometimes normal, and living with such an understanding of my emotions helps me to continue.

In my previous post, which got an extraordinary number of hits, I reflected on hope, such an experience of sadness also leads me to contemplate hope. That is to contemplate a day when sadness is not only not normal but not there. Reflecting on Romans 8, again for a sermon recently, it seems that suffering is not simply something we endure awaiting a time when it will be no more but suffering is the very things which causes us to hope in the future.

Romans 8 begins by showing that suffering is a result of living in a broken world:

[20] For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Where we read of “Creation waiting…” and “Creation subjected to frustration…” these are connected with “our present sufferings…” in verse 18.

The groaning’s are of creation, the subhuman world. But the groanings that Paul speaks of are the marks of broken world waiting to be fixed. And that broken world is the thing which brings about suffering. The world is broken because of sin, because Adam and Eve rebelled against God the whole of creation is broken.

Think of creation like a play, where the lead, the main actor, is drunk. So as everyone looks to the lead, to well lead, he doesn’t because he is drunk, he’s all over the place. (Illustration thank to Christopher Ash)

Creation is similar. The lead part is man whom God placed over all to rule and lead. And yet since the fall, since Adam and Eve’s rebellion they have not led properly so the whole of creation is put out of shape. Now what happens in a broken world, is that people suffer. It is easy to see how sin causes some suffering such as crime, war, abuse that sort of thing. But the Bible’s picture is bigger than that because of man’s position in creation. Man’s sin doesn’t just cause suffering in those direct ways but, now the whole world is broken so suffering comes in many other ways. Even sickness, natural disaster are marks of broken world where the lead actor has rebelled in sin.

That is not to say that things like illness are a direct consequence of an individual’s sin. That can be the case, but I think more often it is not, it is the case that that kind of suffering is a mark living in a broken world. Because I live in a broken world generally, there is general suffer, of which I experience some of.

The Christian however experiences this general suffering in unique way.

[23] Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

That is Christians are experiencing the fixing work of the Spirit in us but we still inhabit bodies and the world of the broken creation. So even while we by God’s Spirit experience a partial restoring we still wait for when our bodies and creation to be restored. So do you see the conflict which comes through in the suffering of the Christian? Christians like creation groans for the time when the physical creation will catch up with the work that the Spirit is doing in us so and everything is perfected. God is working that we will be more and more conformed to the new creation but the more we are conformed to the new creation the more we feel the brokenness of the old creation.

But this very tension is what brings the benefit now. In this tension God is working good, even in our sufferings:

[24] For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? [25] But if we hope for what we do not yet have,we wait  for it patiently.

The experience of suffering now produces hope in us for a time when there will be no suffering. So God works through suffering now to bring us to hope for glory then. In suffering God is producing hope now for glory then. See as we increasingly feel the pain we increasingly long for the day when the world and everything in it will be put right. The theme of this whole section is not so much suffering but glory.

Paul’s point is suffering directs us to glory. Suffering opens our eyes to the world being a broken place, but also directs our eyes in hope to the world then being a completely restored place. As Christians we experience God’s restoring work now and we long for the world to catch up as we do, we feel the pain. The more we feel the pain the more we hope for the end of that pain.

So when we read in verse 28:

[28] And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. It’s not a blind, oh well God is working for our good.

In the suffering we experience now God is working to produce hope in us so that He might bring about our standing in glory which is not worth comparing to what we experience now.

I have funny response to sadness and anxiety now, almost instinctively when I get sad, I worry that I am going down again. I haven’t really experienced symptoms of depression for a long time now. But there are times when I think will it all come back and I long for a time when I know for sure that it won’t return. God uses suffering so that we long for no suffering. Suffering produces hope for a better day.

There is not a nice neat answer to why Christians suffer, but there is an unshakable hope that one day they will not. And if we view suffering rightly today as a mark broken world perhaps we will be directed to a restored world. A world where every pain is healed. A world where there is no more death, no more crying. A world where God wipes away every tear away.

As we feel the pain now we should work hard, not to deny the pain but also to turn that pain into hope then.

Let me end with an example. I am not sure when my depression started it certainly became much worse after I left university. But I can remember in my forth year at university living for weeks with a sense of despair and sadness. At that time something happened  every day I started to read Revelation 21. Almost because of what I was experiencing I hoped for that day all the more.

Revelation 21:1-4 

[1] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. [2] I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. [4] He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

On that day there will be no more suffering. But that day will not be without the knowledge of suffering. Because on that day not only will we not suffer but we will look on the lamb, Jesus, who did suffer. We will look on the lamb whose suffering has brought an end to our suffering.

And suffering now produces hope for that day then.

So although for me sadness is sometimes normal, one day, thanks to Christ’s suffering, it will never be again.

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