“Sorrow is better than laughter because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecc. 7:3). This verse is one that flies in the face of everything we tend to chase after. We are at first resistant to even considering sorrow as good, but if we will let truth be our guide, we can move from being resistant to curious. Could sorrow and grief be good for us, and if so, how?
I think I am beginning to understand. Some of it has to do with age. When I was young, I disliked funerals and the sorrow it brought forth, but as I have gotten older, funerals are actually energizing for me. In my tears, I find not just release for grief but empowerment for life. This same energy occurs as I face the power behind death—sin. Lately, I have been walking through a season of grief over my own sin, how I have repeatedly broken the law of love, both by omission and commission. Again, I have experienced both release and empowerment. I know it has been good for my heart, but what is the explanation for this odd surprise?
The goodness of grief lies in finally admitting reality.
The ever-looming specter of our death is something we subconsciously avoid, but as we grieve over the death of others, we start facing our own death and what our hearts long for in this life. In the same way, the ever-pressing offense of our sin we also avoid, but in admitting it, we find forgiveness and acceptance by God. In both cases, grief opens the heart in an expansive way, allowing us to feel the way things really are—that this life is short and often disappointing, that we are all a part of that disappointment and in some aspects responsible for it.
In all of this admission, we will be surprised by what can happen next: we meet Jesus.
Isaiah tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. This was the grief of His Father over the sin of the world and the grief of carrying that sin on the cross. To meditate on our death and our sin leads us in a strange way to feel connected to Him. Our willingness to feel sorrow can now be directed outside of ourselves to Him—first to feel sorrow over His crucifixion and then over a world decimated by evil and corruption.
Here is how Jesus restated that verse in Ecclesiastes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). The ultimate reason why grief is good lies right here: it leads us to the Jesus, who longs to comfort us. In that comfort, we begin to understand how much we are loved—even in our sin. And in that love, we have the capacity to feel for others in their sin and sadness and offer them comfort as well.
Finally, grief leads us to the biggest surprise of all—joy.
The joy will sneak up on us in a moment of profound gratitude or loving praise or quiet surrender to God. But the route to this joy always wanders through the landscape of grief, a journey that begins as we meditate on our sin and death. But if we choose to go here, we will wander into joy, and behind the joy, we will find Him, guiding us all the way.