I was reminded recently of a meaningful dream I had years ago, which stood out so much that I wrote it down. So I went back to re-visit my dream, and one of the things I noted was that I had been reading a chapter in Hope of the Gospel, called “Sorrow, the Pledge of Joy,” the night before the dream. I had completely forgotten not only that bit, but many other little details about the dream. I am so glad I took a minute to write it down. Of course, it made me want to go back and read that chapter again. The title is so evocative – Sorrow, the Pledge of Joy. It called to my soul; I felt about it like Lewis says of beauty,
“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I wanted to get into the core of what George meant by that phrase. MacDonald gives us several golden gems to consider in this chapter. First of all, that grief, sorrow, pain of heart, and mourning do not separate us from God. Secondly, that there is no evil in sorrow. He follows that up by saying that sorrow is not an essential good, or a “good in itself like love.” But, he says, “It will mingle with any good thing.” And also, that “More of sorrowful than joyful men are always standing about the everlasting doors that open into the presence of the most high.” He says, “It is true also that joy is in its nature more divine than sorrow, for, although man must sorrow… Yet in himself God is not sorrowful, and the ‘glad creator’ never made man for sorrow.” It is but a stormy strait through which we must pass, to reach our ocean of peace. George says – and is always saying, like a great and shining glad star – “He makes the joy the last in every song.” I love how he always goes back to that. It strikes a chord deep inside my soul; the beauty in this note shines a light into the deepest corners of my heart.
“Still,” he says, “A man in sorrow is in general far nearer God than a man in joy… The gladsome child runs farther afield; the wounded child turns to go home. the weeper sits down close to the gate; the lord of life draws nigh to him from within. God loves not sorrow, yet rejoices to see a man sorrowful.” What? – But isn’t that awful? Why? “For in his sorrow, man leaves his heavenward door on the latch, and God can enter to help him. He loves, I say, to see him sorrowful, for then he can come near to part him from that which makes his sorrow a welcome sight.” It is interesting to notice how our reaction to ideas can change, when beautiful reasons appear. Also, there is always a good answer for us out there, if we will look for it. “The promise to them that mourn,” George goes on to say, is not the kingdom of heaven, but that their mourning shall be ended; that they shall be comforted. To mourn is not to fight with evil, it is only to miss that which is good… Men mourn because they love.” So many golden notes in that chapter to take in & think about.
Finally I got to this, and it seemed like the key I had been looking for.
“The Father is father for his children, else why did he make himself their father? Wouldst thou not, mourner, be comforted rather after the one eternal fashion—the child by the father—than in such poor temporary way as would but leave thee the more exposed to thy worst enemy, thine own unreclaimed self?—an enemy who has but this one good thing in him—that he will always bring thee to sorrow!”
George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel
This fallen nature we are born into, always brings us down, and into sorrow. So in a sense, until we are grown out of it, and developed – until that life is fully in us, which is also in Christ, our nature has a downward bent. Nature on this earth tends organically towards entropy and death. The cause of sorrow in us is our brokenness – the “not-rightness” – of the world; in the world around us, as well as in our own broken nature. Every wrong thing in this broken world grieves our child-hearts, and we are often times the children of sorrow. But we were His children first of all, even before the fall; and He is our Father. “The Father is father for his children, else why did he make himself their father?” And if he made himself our father, and if he is good, we can also deduce from that, the fact that he didn’t bring us into this world, to leave us wallowing in the mire of sin and brokenness. He created his children for Joy. So if we are not in joy yet, there must be something still to be done, or still broken; something is still out of place. Something that still requires attention, healing, and growth. He will not allow one ounce of suffering more than is good for us, and than we will be able to bear.
So we have several pieces to consider: 1) God is good, and he is our father. 2) But we have been put into a place where we sometimes experience sorrow and pain. 3) And we know that suffering and pain can be remedial and medicinal, and help us to grow in patience and strength. 4) We also know that God is powerful, and he can make “all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) To have to pass through sorrow, then, knowing that our Father is good, loving, and powerful, is as much as to receive his pledge. The pledge of the good father is that he will always be responsible for his child’s safety and well-being, and that he cares deeply for his child’s good. A good father is permanently committed to the good of his children, come what may. He tells us himself, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) So we know that if we must go through trials and testing, then our Father will also be present with us, and help us, and make everything turn out right in the end somehow. And a powerful God has transformative power, he can make good come from what seemed to be bad, and make a way even through what seems to be nothing but a dark wilderness. Our God is a God that makes all things well. To put it another way, our God is an author of stories that always have happy endings, no matter what twists come into the plot. How can we be comforted, unless we know that things are going to end well? What use is it to have someone come to be with us, if they cannot help us? The only way that our heart and soul can be comforted is if we know that things are going to get better; if not soon, then at least at some point down the line.
So knowing how good our Father is, and that he loves is, and that he has the power to make things right is so key to seeing things the right way up. Which is the same as to know that if we must endure sorrow and suffering, our Father will not only make sure we make it through the difficulty safely, but that he will also make it up to us. Beautifully, perfectly, and gloriously – as only he can. He is not only the living answer to all the things that trouble us from day to day, but he also gives to his children who must journey through sorrow and pain, the pledge that there will be fullness of joy and peace at the end of our suffering. we are told that the end will be so good, that we will feel it was well worth any troubles we had to endure, and then some. So to have to endure and experience sorrow and pain for a time, when we are in the hands of a good and loving and powerful Father, is to automatically receive his pledge of joy. Isn’t that beautiful? I love seeing things from a new angle, and this lit up my world and encouraged my heart.
Father – thank you for sending your rays of light and love to strengthen our spirits, and encourage our hearts! You are so lovely; sometimes we can hardly believe it. Help us to believe it; that you love us wonderfully and tenderly; and that you are bringing us, day by day, out of the darkness and into the light of your truth. Help us to remember that even the darkness, and the sorrow are turned by your hand to serve our good, and become medicinal when we are in the hands of our Father. We are always safe in your hands – even if the darkness and chaos of the world around us seems to surround us; you are larger, and more real than them all. The darkness is just a shadow, and it will soon pass away and fade at the coming of the glorious and golden dawn. We will not fear, for you are with us. Help us to turn our eyes in the direction of the sunrise, and wait with you for the light.
~ Beth 🌸
It’s better to sit outside the door, even though it’s dark and cold sometimes, than to get lost in the woods, with no chance of getting in. The door will open when it’s meant to, won’t it, Bear? 🐾
Just a little flower, turning her face to find the sun. I don’t always feel his rays on me, but when I do, the warmth and the feeling is simply wonderful, and I never want to be in the shadows again. Isn’t he lovely?