It’s a strange picture isn’t it. I mean angels aren’t meant to cry are they. They are the inhabitants of heaven and so enjoy perpetual bliss?
And what about us Christians? Aren’t we supposed to be cheerful, ‘filled with joy’ and a constant source of encouragement to others? Rejoicing in affliction! Some would go so far as to say Christians should not have problems, should not despair, should not weep? It is as if a sad Christian ‘lets the side down’! No we should press on with a smile on our faces and in this way prove to others how our faith overcomes all obstacles.
Except that is not the truth, is it?
Many Christians; good, faithful, loving people I know have experienced great sadness and despair in their lives. An illness that drains strength and the patience of their loved ones. The endless rejection of work applications bringing feelings of worthlessness. The death of a life partner turning each day into a gut-wrenching challenge filled with waves of grief. The feeling of rejection as employment is suddenly lost. The birth of a child who is seriously ill. The emptiness of childlessness. The constant challenge of someone close who suffers from mental illness, or the pain of broken family relationships. These things can bring a cloying hopelessness that is compounded by the guilt of being a despairing Christian. Prayers seem unanswered and as time passes and the sun doesn’t come out doubts arise in the heart – questioning the very foundation of all we have believed. We wonder if, after all, we are one of those destined to end up on the outside, looking in at the party that’s going on without us? My good friend Colin identifies the worst symptom – hopelessness; which is why he started ‘hope on the street‘. He quotes Martin Luther King, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that keeps you going in spite of it all”.
So what can keep us going through times like this?
Well not the Smart Alec answer. “All things work for good etc..” is hardly going to perk up someone who’s ‘soul is thirsty‘ – who’s ‘tears have been their food day and night‘ But at the same time, neither is rolling over and allowing the darkness to take over. There are bits of scripture that seem to challenge the mood: “Rejoice” Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything“. But the key is why should we rejoice? Why should we not be anxious?
The Christian faith is not about a creed or a doctrine, or information, or community, or miracles – these are secondary. The Christian faith is about a person – Jesus. He is what makes the difference, and not in an abstract way like ‘Oh yes I have learnt his teaching’ or ‘Oh yes I have understood what the Bible says about him’ No. In times of great stress and despair he is the one person in our lives that we can genuinely hold fast to and for every good reason. Strange that, in our pain, those we can touch and see are often not as real as the risen one!
So it is the truth that our souls cling to him and when we say we cannot continue, or we cannot cope, we mean we almost cannot. And I say this – it is the love of Christ that keeps us going through it all. His love of us and our love back. This is not a ‘love me and fix things’ sort of love. This is a love that says “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” a love that says ” My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you” A love that believes that even though the night is a long one, yet joy comes in the morning. It is what makes keeping on the best path, it is what makes us realise he is still for us and that there is no-one else with words of eternal life.
For the love of Christ – never give up!