The Gap Between Our Greatest Grief and Our Greatest Joy

My heart has often been gripped by one of the stories Luke tells from the life of Jesus. He tells of Jesus arriving in the town of Nain just as a funeral procession is making its way toward the tombs nearby. This was an especially tragic funeral, for the man who had died was “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Tragedy had followed tragedy for this poor woman. She had already suffered the loss of her husband and now she was also having to lay to rest her only son.

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But Jesus was having none of it. Filled with compassion, he approached that sad procession, brought it to a halt and said to the grieving mother, “Do not weep.” Then turning his attention to the corpse he commanded, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And just like that, the young man was restored to life and restored to health. “And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” What a lovely, beautiful moment.

As I pondered this moment recently I found myself considering this: How long was the gap between when Jesus said “do not weep” and when he said, “Young man, arise?” How long was that stretch of time? The answer is straightforward: There were just a few moments between speaking his comfort and restoring her joy.

And I ask: is there really that much more time between God’s words of comfort to us today and the time when he will restore our joy? We have an eternity stretching out before us, endless ages in his perfect presence. With that in mind, how long is this stretch of time between our moment of grief and our moment of ultimate comfort?

When the Apostle Paul considered his pains and afflictions—deep pains and terrible afflictions—he declared them light and momentary. Paul’s words only make sense if he knew that what awaited him was heavy and long, glorious and eternal. He was drawing hope from the future. By faith he was reaching into the boundless storehouses of heaven and grabbing great handfuls of hope and joy to sustain him on earth. In the present his pains were weighty and momentous. But he was convinced that compared to the future they were light and momentary. Don’t you see how long eternity must be and how great the glory to come must be, that it would make his greatest sorrows fade by comparison?

And we need to do the same. The day will come when we will look back on the pains we endure today, even great pains and deep sorrows, and judge them light and momentary as we bask in the glory of God forever and ever. 

A short time ago I got an email from a gentlemen who is now well into his 90s and who lost his dear son more than 70 years ago. That seems like a long time. It is a long time—it’s a lifetime. And now this dear old man knows that his time is almost here. Now he knows his reunion is imminent. It’s so close he can surely almost feel his son’s arms around him, so close he can surely almost hear his son’s voice greeting him! And let me ask, when he’s been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, how long will the time seem between his day of grief and his day of joy? When he sees God’s plan completed and his purposes perfected, will he grumble that his calling was difficult? When he worships in God’s presence age after endless age, will he claim that these 70 years were too long or too hard? Of course not.

Our pains still hurt; our persecutions still torment; our trials still agonize. We still weep with the pain of it all. But by setting them against the backdrop of heaven we can say, “light and momentary.” Because the gap between the moment of our greatest grief and the moment of our greatest joy will really just prove to be the briefest of moments. Just like it was for that widow who, for so short a time, was grieving her beloved son.