Recently in my early morning Bible reading, I was struck by Proverbs 14:10
Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.
Though we share so much in common as humans, made in God’s image, still our experiences of both joy and sorrow can often be very personal and even private.
As I shared the frustration of repeat, last-minute changes of COVID restrictions on our Sunday plans for St Michael’s over the last fortnight, I was given some perspective. I heard that CMS missionaries in Chile and Japan had not been able to gather for Sunday services or university ministry since March 2020. That’s 16 months without going to church!
It did put three weeks (or so) of restrictions into perspective. On the other hand, just because the deprivation of others is worse does not really make your struggles easy.
I think of people living in sole-person households, climbing the wall; those in households with some kind of dissension; those cut off from family overseas for months; those who are stressed because a family member is immuno-compromised, or a child is diagnosed with serious illness, or mental health issues just won’t go away. I could go on, but it doesn’t always help to say others have it worse.
The Bible often encourages us to rejoice in the good things of God’s creation. But the Bible’s wisdom literature also warns us that such joys can be fleeting. Prov 14:13 says,
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.
Likewise, Ecclesiastes 7:1-6 makes some pessimistic-sounding observations about life… Like it’s better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting; that frustration can be better than laughter. It’s because happiness can be so temporary. And most basically, death is the destiny of everyone. Ultimately, it’s wise to take this heart.
So maybe COVID is doing us a kind of favour; knocking over our sense of being in control; a reality check to our Aussie sense of “She’ll be right, mate”. But only if it also turns us to God; to the fear of the Lord, as the wisdom writings say… We depend on God for it all!
Of course, when the Bible says “Rejoice”, it often adds, “in the Lord”. Even in suffering, we have the love of Christ demonstrated decisively in the past on the cross where he died for us. And we have the hope of heaven, as an “anchor for the soul” Heb 6:19), firm and secure, based on Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven.
But meantime, as I have said many times recently, we are limping to heaven.
With that in mind, can I again recommend two excellent short books under 100 pages:
- Down, Not Out, if you or a loved one struggle with anxiety or depression;
- Hope Beyond Cure, if you or a friend faces cancer or another serious illness.
Warmly in Christ