The God of Joyful Tears and Sorrow

Baby-casket_2621_w350Last Thursday was one of the most joyful and somber days of my life. We often speak of life as a journey of mountaintops and valleys, but rarely do we experience the joy of the mountain and the sorrow of the valley so close to each another.

The morning began with the good news that my youngest brother’s wife was in labor, about to deliver their first child. I stopped by the hospital on the way to work, and then again at the end of the day, excited to become an uncle again and to see my brother and his wife begin a new chapter.

The joyful anxieties of childbirth were our family’s chatter all day. How many centimeters dilated? What position is the baby in? How much will he weigh? Who does the baby look like?

Once the joyous moment arrived, pictures flooded iPhones and FaceBook posts. A little boy arrived at 4:51 p.m., lungs full of passion and eyes filled with wonder at this strange new world.

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An hour later, Corina and I were standing at the graveside of a stillborn baby. Some dear friends of ours, seminary friends and partners in ministry, had come back to middle Tennessee to bury their little girl, their fourth child, who – without any sign of trauma or any cause the doctors could discover – fell asleep quietly in the womb.

The pictures of the baby girl broke our hearts. The little casket and the little hole in the ground, the weeping family, the somber service.

As we stood at the grave and sang “In Christ Alone,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and “It Is Well,” my thoughts bounced back and forth between the joy we’d experienced in the hospital and the deep pain we were feeling at the graveside. From the joyful arms of a new mother to the tearstained grief of a precious family…

As the sun began to set over the hill and the warm breeze caressed our faces, I thought to myself: God is big enough for both.

The God who meets us in the tears of joy is the same God who meets us in the tears of sorrow.

And somehow, there is joy and pain mixed in all the seasons of life.

The delivery room is a place of great pain, but also joy as a woman awaits the arrival of new life from her womb. The graveside harbors a family’s great grief, but also, an insuppressible hope and joy as we feel the birth pangs of a world that is passing away and look forward to the world that is to come, a world in which a little girl whose first sight was the eyes of Jesus will receive her little body back and bow before her Maker, a world in which God Himself will wipe away our tears, a new world born out of the pain and suffering of the old.

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We don’t know the ways of God. We don’t understand the intricacies of His plan. Who can fathom the infinity of His mind?

Like Martha, our questions are heartfelt, Lord why? If you had only intervened, if you had only come… And like Martha, we also find hope in the resurrection at the last day.

But it’s when that day seems so far away, when what should have been a celebration of birth becomes a memorial of death, that Jesus meets us and reminds us – the resurrection is not just an event. It is a Person. “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Because of Him, though we die, we shall live.

Spring is coming, because He is coming. And when the Resurrection returns, joy will overflow its earthly banks and drown our griefs forever.

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