I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God…. – 2 Cor. 7:9
I’m Happy You Are Here – Really?
When I welcome new residents to the Village of Hope (VOH), I generally say something like “I’m really happy that you are here.” The VOH is a transitional living facility for homeless men, women and children. It is generally a last resort for the addicted, abused and broken. I occasionally wonder if my new acquaintance might reply, “Really, you are happy my life is so messed up that I’ve ended up at a homeless shelter? Thanks a lot, jerk.” So far, our residents have been too polite to respond in that manner, or perhaps they simply think I am being glib, which I am not.
By most societal standards, the individuals I greet are beyond broken – most likely hopeless – and the appropriate emotional response is pity or even disdain. What fool would rejoice over their circumstances? And please do not assume I’m experiencing some superficial satisfaction while thinking “at least, they’re off the streets, for now.” Providing temporary relief from suffering is commendable but without more, it is no reason for rejoicing. The amputee receives pain medication with a grateful but very somber disposition.
Close to the Crown
My joy is in the expectation that these men and women are experiencing sorrow according to the will of God. For many, the desperate circumstances precipitating arrival at the VOH will result in repentance leading to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). I love to direct my new friends to Luke 23:39-43. In this scripture, we meet a thief who appears to be in the worst of circumstances. I doubt he received many “Congratulations!” or “Happy for ya’s” as the nails were pounded through his hands and feet. None who truly cared for him would have expressed glee as he was hoisted up from the ground upon his cross. And yet, within hours, this man would experience joy unfathomable. “Today,” Jesus said, “You shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Undoubtedly, the thief tossed and turned the night before his crucifixion. He surely would have traded places with any Roman soldier or any of the many sneering faces in the crowd, but these cruelest of circumstances brought him closest to the Crown. How thankful he must have been as he entered Paradise that he had not been “rescued” from his sorrow by a well-intentioned loved one. For 2,000 years up to this day, surely he sings the praises of two crosses, the agony long since forgotten, and the scars forever cherished.
Who Is To Be Pitied?
As we consider this story, certainly we feel no lasting pity for the thief. I feel a deep sense of pity for one man, though. Pilate. Seemingly secure in his governor’s mansion. “You made the right call,” his advisors likely assured him. “You’ve got to look out for yourself, for your career, your future.” How these hollow statements must have echoed in Pilate’s mind in every empty moment of his remaining years! I sincerely hope that this sorrow led to his repentance, but it would surely have been difficult amongst the distractions of power and money and comfort. How many today are upheld by the same distractions, the same false sense of security? The Lord is near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), but so many are over-insured and over-medicated against any lasting sorrow. Many feel they’ve got it all figured out. Life is working just fine. Just fine, indeed. For a few brief moments. Until the vapor vanishes.
Sorrow at Work
As Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 7:9, he rejoiced not over the sorrow for the sorrow’s sake, but for the result of that sorrow. For the thief on the cross, the result of his sorrow, indeed his agony, was proximity to Jesus and eternal life in Paradise. The sorrow of his cross caused him to cry out to Jesus for salvation. We do not read of any of the onlookers crying out to Jesus. Why would they? They perceived no need for His salvation. Sorrow often rips to shreds the veil of personal security and independence. This reality does not lessen the immediate pain – those nails surely hurt – but it does reveal part of God’s sovereign and wonderful plan in leading men to repentance.
Sorrow also works in another way. The sorrow that led the Corinthians to repentance was caused by Paul’s bold proclamation of the truth. In a prior letter (1 Corinthians), Paul called out their sin and that caused sorrow, which it usually does, which is why we are often reluctant to do it. But it is necessary! We lovingly call out sin while praying that any sorrow caused by the truth is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, for no man can be convicted by a perfect God without tear-filled sorrow. We then rejoice knowing that on the other side of that sorrow awaits pleasure forevermore in God’s glorious presence.
There is a sorrow that does not lead to repentance, though. According 2 Corinthians 7:10, the sorrow of the world produces death. When we enable loved ones to point the finger of blame in every direction but at themselves. When we allow them to get bitter while assuring them they deserve better. When we accept their sin on bowed knees at the altar of the god of tolerance. When we justify their actions and condemn the plan and will of a perfect and holy God, we all but guarantee that their sorrow is of the world and will lead to death.
Saint, be encouraged by Paul to rejoice over sorrow which is according to the will of God. Be emboldened to proclaim truth in the face of pain, knowing that all suffering loses its sting in the face of Jesus.