Back when I was being trained for pastoral counseling, the spirit of this verse was often emphasized:
“Like vinegar poured on a wound, so is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)
In counseling, you’re taught a lot about listening, about empathy, but as much as anything, you’re taught not to tell a person in the pit of suffering: “The sun will come out tomorrow!” Most of the time, that’s not what they need to hear. They mostly need you to join them in their sorrow. To feel that someone is there and that they are loved.
This comes to mind when I think of the term used for today, “Good Friday”—the day we commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. I doubt anyone was trying to cheer up Jesus’ mother or the other mourners at the foot of the cross. I doubt that in the moments she watched her son suffer and die, his mother thought anything about it was good.
But we Christians are sometimes carried away by our own hindsight. It was good, we say, because Jesus’ death resulted in something good. We sing, “He rose from the dead only a few days later! His victory over death assures us that we too can join God and our loved ones forever in heaven!” And yes, of course, those are all good things. Great things.
But if we’re too overzealous with such encouragement when comforting others, it can be like vinegar poured on a wound. Understandably, we struggle with this tension. Knowing that the joy of Easter awaits, knowing that heaven is promised through the cross of Christ, how can we lovingly comfort those who suffer with both genuine sympathy and genuine hope?
I think one clue is to understand that love is so often about tone and timing. When someone is in mourning or suffering a loss, we shouldn’t rush them through it. We should join them and love them through it.
Will a new day dawn? Yes. We must offer this hope. But our hope should be tempered as it was with Jesus. Shortly before his own death, Jesus offered the comfort of a future resurrection by raising Lazarus—but not before joining others in mourning the death of his dear friend.
Yes, Easter Sunday is coming, but it hasn’t come yet. Yes resurrection from the dead, complete victory over sin, and the end of suffering are all coming. But, they haven’t come yet. When they do finally come, we can all rejoice in full celebration. But until then, our hope should be tempered with tears—for this world that longs to be made new.
Of the many things Good Friday symbolizes, the one perhaps closest to my heart is that, when I enter into my own seasons of mourning and suffering, I can know that Jesus is with me and that I am loved. Jesus is qualified to join me in my suffering because he suffered himself for the sake of love. He’s qualified to offer me hope amidst the tears because his comfort comes from the other side of death and suffering.
When we’re sure we have nothing left and life seems meaningless, we’re often able to go on simply because we feel that someone is there. And because Easter Sunday did indeed follow Good Friday 2,000 years ago, we can feel that Jesus is there.
He’s here with us now. And he will be with us always. Until there’s no more need to mourn.
About John Michalak
An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.
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