Finding Comfort in Sorrow
The experience of grief is fraught with many dangers. Many lives are stranded on the shallows which skirt the sea of sorrow. There is a prevalent impression that trouble always does people good. This is not true. No doubt sorrow is designed always to do good, but its effects depend altogether on the way it is received. It comes as a heavenly messenger with a blessing in its hand—if it is welcomed as from God, the blessing is left behind.
If the sorrow is resisted and treated with irreverence and unbelief, it bears away the blessing it came to leave. Then, as in the case of all heavenly messengers that are rejected—the rejection causes harm and detriment in the life.
We ought, therefore, to know how to bear ourselves well in sorrow. We need to remember that it is a sin for a Christian to refuse to be comforted.
In a great cemetery there is one monument which tells a sad story. It is the marble form of a dog lying on a grave. The master died and the faithful dog followed the dead body to the grave. When the grave was filled up the dog laid himself on it and refused to go away. He pined away in his hopeless grief, and soon died. His figure was then cut in marble and laid on his master's grave. The statue tells of a hopeless, uncomforted sorrow. We may admire it in the dog—he had no other way of showing his devotion. But such grief in a Christian is not beautiful; it is sinful. We ought to be comforted in our sorrows; and the comforts of God are not few.
It may help some to whom these words come, to indicate few of the great comforts which Christ brings to those who love God.
One of the greatest comforts is the assurance of his unchanging love. No matter what the seeming trial may be, his love never for one moment ceases to flow toward any of his children. Not one act of his can ever be really an unkindness to one of his redeemed people. We cannot always see the kindness or the love.
"All these things are against me!" said an old man, and the appearances certainly verified his conclusion. Yet, in the fuller light of a later day, the things that he then thought were against him, were indeed elements of blessing.
No doubt it is so in the case of every Christian who is in the midst of trial and sorrow. If God is our Father, and if this is our Father's world—then we ought to know that he will never allow any experience of suffering to work us harm—unless, by our own unbelief and lack of submission we mar God's plan for us in our sorrow, and turn his good into evil.
The outcome of the firm belief of this truth, should be a faith that asks no questions, that does not seek for the solution of perplexities, that does not inquire for reasons—but simply believes that his heavenly Father will bring good out of the difficult trial.
It was such a faith that Jesus in his last night on earth asked his disciples to have in their dark sorrow, "You believe in God, believe also in me." They could understand nothing, and all was inexpressibly dark and terrible; yet they were to believe in God in the darkness and cling to him; their faith was not to waver for an instant.
The same lesson is taught in our Lord's word to Jairus when the sad tidings came that his child was dead. The Master had lingered on his way to the ruler's home, and while be lingered a messenger came to say that the child was dead, and the Healer need not come. To the stricken father, Jesus said, "Fear not—only believe." That is the lesson which the same lips speak to his people always in their grief. Great comfort comes when we can settle down in unquestioning faith on such a firm rock of trust as this, and be quiet and still.
Another source of comfort when a Christian friend dies, is that his death is really the fulfilling of all our fondest hopes for him. We ask God to give our friend the richest and best blessings which Heaven has to bestow—to fill his heart with all gentleness purity and grace; to clothe his life with all loveliness, holiness and honor; to do for him more abundantly than we can ask or think.
Of course, we are thinking of life in this world. But God hears our pleadings and knows that the best things cannot be given here on earth—so he lifts our friend away into Heaven's pure blessedness, where all that our fond hearts have pleaded in his behalf is bestowed upon him.
As we look at the dear face in the casket and think of our yearnings and hopes for him now realized—surely we should find comfort in the thought, even though the realization has been in such a strange way, and at such cost of pain and heart-rending to us.
Heaven is infinitely better than earth's best, and unless we are selfish, we must rejoice in our friend's elevation to honor and glory—even though we are left stricken and lonely.
There is still something else in all true seeking of comfort—something which concerns ourselves. We can trust God's love. We know it is well with our friend who has fallen asleep in Christ. But we are the ones who are in danger, and who need grace to guide us in our time of grief. What will our sorrow do for us? What effect will it have on our life? Will it leave us more gentle, more reverent toward God, more tender and thoughtful toward our fellow-men, more beautiful in character? Or will it leave us vexed with our Father, distrustful, questioning, and cold and selfish in our disposition?
God's comfort does not merely nerve us to get through our trouble; it does not just dry our tears, and by the inward strength it imparts, enable us to be calm and submissive. Even the cynic can be calm and can go on with his work after his heart has been torn. He can hide his grief and put on an air of cold indifference before the world.
God's comfort would lead his children through the sorrow in such a way that they shall be blessed and profited by the experience. It is of such comfort as this that our Lord says, "Blessed are those who mourn—for they shall be comforted." We should come from our sorrows with spirits chastened into new spiritual loveliness.
Someone gives us this little parable: "Look at this flute. It was just a piece of wood—what has made it a flute? The rifts and the holes in it. What life is there through which affliction does not make some rift? All went well until then; but through that rift in the life, came thought and feeling. So I listened to a flute complaining that it was spoiled by having a number of holes bored in it. 'Once,' it said, 'I was a piece of wood, very beautiful to look upon—now I am spoiled by all these rifts and holes!' It said all this mournfully and musically.
'O, you foolish flute,' I said, 'without these rifts and holes you would only be a mere stick, a bit of hard, black ebony, soon to be thrown away. Those rifts and holes have been the making of you; they have made you into a flute; they are your life, your character, your music and melody, and you will not now be cast aside with contempt—but touched by even the fingers of future generations.'
No doubt the possible ministry of sorrow for every child of God is very rich. It is painful and costly, but if we yield to it in the spirit of love and faith as to the work of God's own hand upon us—then it will leave us with new power. The life that was whole and unbroken was cold, hard and musicless—when pierced by sorrows, is an instrument capable of giving out sweet music!
Of infinite importance to us, therefore, in the time of trouble, is the question: What is our trouble doing for us?
We shall miss an opportunity of great blessing, and will receive harm to ourselves, if we get only pain and grief from it. If we receive sorrow with reverent faith and love, then we shall find indeed within the dark folds that enwrap the strange messenger, none other than the Master himself, come to bring us new gifts of grace and joy!