A New Character
One of the blogs that I check out daily is "The Corner" at the National Reivew Online. It has multiple contributors, but I'll admit I've never been really good, even with books, about remembering who the authors are (assuming I even check with a shared blog like "The Corner").
However, this past week while away near Dallas, one entry caught my attention enough that I e-mailed myself a link to it. The writer was Charles C. W. Cooke, and this is how it started out:
I have found both anger and frustration in Zuccotti Park, but it did not prepare me for what I happened upon last night when the sun went down. Wandering among the protesters, away from the chain of malcontents which forms a permanent fence around the park, I met a new character, one whose role in the movement has hitherto been obfuscated by the shouting: his name is Sadness. Speak to those in the vanguard for more than a few seconds and the topic will inexorably veer sharply into moon-bat territory — 9/11 "truth," Jewish conspiracies, sorcery, fantasies of mass execution, a New World Order — but, in the beating heart of the commune, my interlocutors wanted instead to talk about loss.
This was less funny, and entirely devoid of the oddness which permeates the boundary. One woman had lost her son to a car accident, another her husband and house to divorce. A younger man was grieving for his brother, who had shot himself. Others had less dramatic tales, but there were many more stories of hurt and heartbreak and alienation than one would usually encounter. Most of these tragedies, by admission of their narrators, have very little to do with Wall Street; but the sudden grouping of people united by anger, upset, and frustration have provided a sort of homecoming for the bereaved that has proved irresistible.1
Up to reading Cooke's words I'll admit that my main emotions about the "Occupy" protest were a combination of frustration and disdain. Frustration because they are getting a lot more attention than their often incoherent and impossible agendas warrant and because that ample media attention ignores (and avoids) the anarchist, socialist, and communist underpinnings of many of its organizers. Disdain because, let's be serious, randomly interviewing participants leads to some pretty idiotic quotes. I suppose I might instead find it humorous, but their foolishness is backed up with a willingness to break the law to enforce their will. A Wall Street Journal's survey found "virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda."2
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
I don't know about you, but I don't find foolishness backed up with lawbreaking funny…no matter how much they might be fodder for late night comedians, political blogs, and Howard Stern.
But now, after Cooke's post, mixed with my frustration and anger is pity. A woman who outlived her son…another woman who lost her marriage and home…a man whose brother decided he didn't want to face life anymore. All somehow finding solace in an unfocussed protest.
Cooke aptly titled his blog post, "A New Character at the Occupy Wall Street Protests: Sadness." Behind all the characters we've seen from Occupy Wall STreet on our TV screens is another one we may not have expected. If that character had been greed…or anger…or narcissism…or laziness…we may not have been surprised based on the words and actions of many of the participants.
That, I hadn't expected. But I suppose I am not entirely surprised that "the sudden grouping of people united by anger, upset, and frustration have provided a sort of homecoming for the bereaved that has proved irresistible."3
And as someone who has, like the Christian artist Brandon Heath, asked the Lord to give me His eyes…I thank Charles Cooke for slowing me down enough to see what Jesus sees in so many of them.
Loss and Gain
So, with Jesus eyes let's look again at the demonstrators. What can we offer them?
It's one thing to recognize someone's sorrow.
It's another to actually be able to help them with it.
Now, we've all known sorrow…generally because of loss.
- The loss of a loved one.
- The loss of a marriage.
- The loss of a job.
- The loss of trust.
- The loss of dignity.
- The loss of <fill in the blank here>…
Sometimes the sorrow can be overwhelming.
And, as Ecclesiastes so aptly notes, sorrow can come from gaining something too:
Let's turn to Ecclesiastes 1:16-18:
16 I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge." 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
King Solomon, the wisest man ever, recognized that yes, sometimes ignorance is bliss. "For in much wisdom is much vexation."
It isn't just loss that leads to sorrow. Often when we gain knowledge it comes hand-in-hand with sorrow.
To quote the hair-band Poison from their hit "Something to Believe In":
Sometimes I wish to God I didn't know now
The things I didn't know then
How about you? Would you be happier if you never learned…
- About all the starving children in Africa?
- About all the human trafficking that goes on?
- About all the existences that are snuffed out by cruel and needless wars?
- About all the lives that turn into a living hell as soon as the doctor arrives with a diagnosis of cancer?
- About all the children who are abused at the hands of those who should be protecting them?
- About all the babies who are murdered before they have had their first breath of air?
- About that friend or family member you thought was a really great guy or gal, only to find out about his or her deep, dark secret?
- About all those people who, instead of spending an eternity in the loving arms of God, are going to be joining their father…the father of lies…in everlasting punishment?
But sorrow in our lives, as unwelcome as it is, isn't always bad is it? It isn't just something we need learn to endure. James makes it clear that, at least for Christians, it can have benefits:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Do you count your sorrow as joy?
That's sounds like a crazy questions doesn't it? 🙂
Do you count your sorrow as joy?
You should, because "when you meet trials of various kinds…you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."
Not only that, but doesn't the fact we experience sorrow allows us to better help others when they do?
Now, don't get me wrong. A doctor doesn't have to catch some strange disease in order to competently treat it…but doesn't it help when the person treating you has some empathy for your situation…has an understanding of the pain and discomfort you are experiencing?
Instead of just seeing you as the person who is part of the workday…someone who is little more than a medical record to review…or a patient who needs to be quickly handled before they can escape for their golf game?
Although I would never recommend saying, "I know what you are going through"…
Because, trust me, you don't…
Although I would never say, "I know what you are going through"…the reality is that even knowing not to say that can be because you understood…
While going through the same type of situation…
That that statement doesn't help.
Odd as it might sound, practicing sorrow…even as we are unwillingly forced to by life…helps us train so that we can help others get through it.
No, we do not know exactly what they are going through, but we have enough of an idea to know…
And enough empathy to care.
What About Jesus?
What about Jesus? How does what we've discussed up until intersect in what the Bible tells us about the Son of God?
First…if knowledge brings sorrow…what would it mean for the omniscient Son of God?
From the first bite of the forbidden fruit…
To the first spilt blood that cried from the ground…
To every child who has been tortured…
To every sparrow that has fallen…
To ever inner evil secret of a humans heart…
He knows it all. He suffers it all. Or, as Isaiah says in Isaiah 53:3-5:
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Jesus has born our griefs and carried our sorrows.
He has born your griefs and carried your sorrows.
Hi is a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief.
He More Than Cares
Although it may be especially comforting to know that Jesus can empathize with our sorrows, the great news is that He isn't limited to just an emotional bond. In one part where David speaks of sorrow we find this:
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away (Psalm 31:9-10)
Notice who, in the midst of his sorrowful life, David calls for ("O LORD"). A little while later in the same psalm, we see why:
But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! (Psalm 31:14-15)
David trusts God because he knows his "times are in [God's] hand." God can be trusted because He can…and does…deliver on His promises.
He is not only omniscient, He is omnipotent.
And that God, in the person of Jesus, made a pretty incredible promise to His disciples:
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:20-22).
Let me ask you this. Is there any less reason for your sorrow to be turned into joy than that of the disciples?
Why was their sorrow going to turn to joy?
Because of three words we repeat every Easter.
"He is risen!"
"He is risen!"
The tomb is empty and…
"He is risen!"
Now, that doesn't mean that we will have no more sorrow in this world…but Jesus' resurrection confirms everything He promised us.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).
Jesus resurrection turns our sorrow into joy…and no one can take that joy from us.
Back to Occupy Wall Street
Let's return to our Occupy Wall Street neighbors, and see what this means for them. Before we do, let's take a look at the last portion of Cooke's original blog entry that was the inspiration for this sermon:
A sign adorning a tree hints at the group therapy on offer: "For the first time in my life, I feel at home." One should never underestimate the cathartic properties of shared grievance, or of putting a name and face on the world's problems. Misguided in its direction it may be, but it should not be ignored. On my way home, I found a public telephone with a handwritten note taped to its side. "Call me on this number," it read. "I'm lonely and I'll talk about anything." Perhaps its author should head down to lower Manhattan.4
How many people who, for the first time in their life, felt at home in a park in New York City could instead feel at home in a church?
If the person who penned that intensely sorrowful note, "Call me at this number. I'm lonely and I'll talk about anything" came through a church's doors, would they feel a welcome part of a family?
Although I am greatly appreciative that Charles C. W. Cooke made me aware of the sorrow of that anarchist crew on Wall Street, his last bit of potential advice is far off the mark.
There is only One whose wounds can heal them…a man of sorrows who has the power to permanently turn their sorrows into joy.
First, of course, they have to recognize their need for that heavenly physician who, although He has been forced to suffer the sorrowful symptoms of their disease, never personally had their disease.
When the Holy Spirit finally brings them…or those like them…through these doors…it is up to us to make it so they will feel like "adorning a tree" with a sign that says, "For the first time in my life, I feel at home."
Then, perhaps instead of sorrow, they too will have joy in saying three simple words…
Let's say them joyfully together…
He is risen!
1Cooke, C. (2011, October 20). A New Character at the Occupy Wall Street Protests: Sadness. National Review Online. Retrieved October 21, 2011, from A New Character at the Occupy Wall Street Protests: Sadness
2Schoen, D. (2011, October 18). Polling the Occupy Wall Street Crowd. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 22, 2011, from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637082965745362.html