Sunday, February 19, 2006

Is It OK to Hurt?

We Americans are all about success. We want to achieve a level of perfection in every area of life: nice house, good spouse, obedient kids, cool car, fulfilling career, great friends. There’s not much room in our culture for those who hurt or fail or merely struggle. Admit a shortcoming and you’ll be encouraged to take a nice pill or see a counselor or start a new diet.

Jesus established the church as a harbor for the hurting. At the outset of His ministerial life, He announced His mission as focused on the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed; and He spent much of His time on earth dispensing physical healing to the lame, the blind, the infirm. I think the church, on the whole, at least tries to reach out to people who are hurting—as long as those people are not part of the church, that is. For those who have aligned themselves with Jesus Christ, we tend to expect things like joy and peace, which are good things. Paul names them as fruits, natural outgrowths, of a Spirit-filled life. So sometimes we start telling ourselves that if we’re good Christians we have to be happy and content all the time. We start believing that hurting, experiencing pain in life, is ungodly, sinful even. As a result, we judge those who are hurting. Like Job’s friends, we assume some sin or oversight on their part. And we stuff our own feelings, refusing to admit that life sometimes hurts because it just seems so unspiritual to admit something like that. One popular preacher says you can have your best life now. If this is the best we can expect, then Christianity is worse than a cosmic joke, as Paul noted in I Corinthians 15:19. The whole point of the resurrection is to let us know that redemption and wholeness are waiting for us; there’s more ahead and it’s better than we can imagine because it’s better than this life will ever be.

If you still doubt that it’s okay to hurt as a follower of God, consider Jesus. He was without sin, and yet He hurt tremendously. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that His soul was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” On that night, Christ wept, pleaded with God, and sweat agonizing drops of blood. His sorrow was real, so real that we shy away from it. We don’t like to picture Jesus, prostrate and weeping. It’s uncomfortable and untidy. But God gives us this very vivid picture of our Lord to remind us that He knows the messy, unbeautiful reality of our sadness.

There’s another place in Scripture that records Jesus’ tears. That famous verse, “Jesus wept,” is in the context of Jesus’ sorrow over His friend Lazarus’s death. Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He cried. Perhaps they were tears of pity for the sorrow of Lazarus’s sisters and friends who didn’t yet know that he would soon be alive again; perhaps they were tears of anger over the injustice and tyranny of death itself, a result of man’s fall and Satan’s stranglehold on this world. Whatever the cause, the fact is that He wept—plain and simple.

If Jesus can cry like a baby, then so can we. There’s no shame or guilt in feeling sad. God honors our emotions and doesn’t ask us to hold back. Instead, He wants to use our times of deep emotion to teach us about Himself.

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