Have you ever read something in a footnote that was just too good to leave there? Whether you have or not, I think that this gem buried in Joe Rigney’s book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2015) is worth sharing.
Before you get to the quote, let me set the stage. Have you ever been hurting? Just completely consumed by grief or sorrow? If you remain in such a condition for long, you feel that there is no more joy in the world. The sun doesn’t seem fair, the flowers are dull, everything is meaningless. So what can you do to get yourself out of such a perilous state? This footnote has an answer.
At first it doesn’t sound like good news, but the Bible tells us that we must “rejoice with those who rejoice.” And perhaps that is the key. You have lost something, but they have not. You are hurting, but their hurt is of a lesser degree. Would you rob them of shared joy, by extending your grief to cover them too?
An others-focus may just free us from a pattern of self-despair. Looking away from ourselves, doesn’t mean we cease to grieve or hurt. But it does mean we see God at work in bigger and broader ways, with more people than just our immediate family.
This goes both ways, because we are called to “weep with those who weep.” So even our highest joys should be tinged with an awareness of the hurting of others. This is the sort of tangible togetherness and unity that should be the hallmark of Christian love and of the Church that Jesus founded.
Let me share the quote which set my mind to this direction. And please note that ultimately it is only the Holy Spirit and His work in us which enables such a radical others-orientation. May God bless all who ponder the Scripture behind the thoughts shared below.
In an earlier chapter, I spoke of the way that the Bible expands our minds by pulling us in opposite directions and that we must embrace the mystery and refuse to allow one truth to cancel out another. This is no less true of our emotional lives. One of the seemingly impossible commands in the Bible is found in Rom. 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” The gospel lays both of these commands upon us. Those who suffer are called to add their joy to the joy of the blessed. Those who receive favor must join the grieving in the midst of their sorrow. And we must do so without allowing one emotion to tyrannize the other. The glad-hearted must not lord their blessings over the afflicted. The hurting must not allow their pain to drown out real joy when it’s given from God. Love must be genuine (Rom. 12:9), and we must endeavor to live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16). Practically speaking, this means that our lives will be characterized by the same heart as the apostle Paul, who lived “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). It also means that wisdom and propriety will govern our joy and sorrow, so that we move with the rhythms of Eccles. 3:4: “[There is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” And the only way that we’ll make any progress in getting these rhythms right is if we are open and honest in communicating with one another and if we are trusting in the grace of God to be sufficient for our every need. It is grace that enables the sorrowful to rejoice in the joy of others, especially when they receive something that we desperately want or have tragically lost. It is grace that enables the joyful to bear with the suffering of the grief-stricken, especially when our hearts are bursting with gladness. Grace must reign, love must cover a multitude of sins, wounds, and thoughtlessness, and Christ must do what is impossible for us.
— Endnote 13 from chapter 11, found on pg. 259.