The Field of Sorrow and The Firstfruits of Joy
“YHWH is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
– Psalm 118:6
“What then shall we say to these things, if God is for us, who can be against us?”
– Romans 8:31
Statements like the ones above can be misunderstood. Sometimes they are used as a sort of divine sanction for whatever dreams or hopes someone might have: “I want this and I will get it, God is on my side, isn’t he?” Or, they might be used to justify an unbiblical emphasis on health and wealth: “God is on my side so I will not suffer…God is on my side so I cannot get sick, I cannot lose my job, I cannot…etc.”
However, this possibility of misuse should not be allowed to obscure the fact that they are deeply, sweetly and soberingly glorious promises.
What the Words Cost
I say “soberingly” because God is on our side only because of Christ. In and of ourselves we are sinners. Ephesians 2 says that we are dead in sin, following Satan, and hating God with every fiber of our natural selves. That is who we are, and God is not “for” that, He is not “on the side” of someone like that. And “someone like that” is every human who has ever been naturally conceived.
So how can The Bible—written to sinners—say things like “God is on my side,” or “God is for us”? Only because God—being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us—has made us alive together with His beloved Son. The only reason Psalm 118:6 or Romans 8:31 can exist is because, in eternity past, the Triune God freely purposed to create and love what was not God by fitting them for Himself and drawing them to Himself. Because of this eternal, Trinity-born love, God had mercy on His rebellious people and sent His Son to bear their sins and wash them pure in His sight. And because we are now—by grace-given faith—bound to Christ, God Almighty is FOR US.
And now that we are trusting in Christ, what a glorious and breathtaking thing it is to recognize that God is for us. YHWH–The Lord of Heaven’s Armies–is on our side (because, of course, we have been made to be on His). From this fortress of grace we can confidently declare, “What can man do to me?” And we would also add, with Paul, “What can anything in all creation do to me?” (Romans 8:39). What can all the rantings of the nations, all the gall and bitterness of terrorism, all the upheavals of nature, all the internal rebellions of a dying body, what can these things do to me? To us? To the true selves whom God has united to His Son? What evil can befall them? What stray arrow can pierce them? What enemy can have its way with them? None…..None…..if GOD—the Almighty Sovereign, whose will moves the atom and the emperor—if GOD is for us, then no one can be against us.
Nothing Can Be Against Us?
“But,” one might say, “What about the knife to the throat? What about the solitary, terror-soaked darkness of the torture chamber? What about the dying, cancer-ridden body? What about the corruption of the flesh? The dissolution of your tent and your forcible eviction into naked homelessness? What about the ten-thousand terrors that afflict those who love God? Are these not against you? Are these not examples of what, indeed, man can do to you?”
And the Christian would respond, “No… It is not that we do not suffer these things and worse, but in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved and loves us. Our Father authors the knife and the chamber, my Savior ordains—in perfect love—the cancer and the death. These things are not against me because the purpose beneath their monstrous raging is love. Indeed, they have been loosed upon me by Love Himself and He ordains their every movement. He holds their leash, and the slightest flicker of His eyelids or tilt of His head would still the devouring beast of my suffering mid-assault.”
It will be seen in the end that the most horrific, the most painful, the most tormenting attack made against the people of God was, in fact, an out working of infinite LOVE. Yes, and the deepest scars gouged into the Bride as she waits for her groom amidst the Fall, the deepest wounds dealt to her here will be glorified into her greatest beauties and highest joys. The Church Triumphant will rejoice with all her being as she—with one voice—confesses that ALL His ways have been perfect, ALL His purposes have been steadfast love and faithfulness, and ALL her mournings have served her blessedness and joy. It will be seen by all creation that, never once, from “Let there be” to “It is done,” never once has anyone or anything been truly against the people of God, ALL things have served their good and joy and God’s glory in them.
Now, how can I say this? How can I be sure of these things? Isn’t it wildly insensitive to speak of suffering in this way? Isn’t it incurable romantic to believe in such a “happy ending?” How can I say that God will turn all sorrows to joy and prove that no one has been or could ever be against His beloved ones?
I say this because God has already done it. He has already shown us what He is going to do to suffering and sorrow. And He has shown us in the cross.
The Field of Sorrow
Why is the cross the definitive proof that no one can successfully be against God’s people and that God will, in fact, turn all their sorrows into joy? Consider it: Where–in all of reality–can a better case be made that someone prevailed against God’s people? Where can a better case be made that the enemy succeeded? The murder of God on Calvary is—without a doubt and by an infinite degree—the greatest sin, the most perverse act, the deepest horror, the highest suffering, the most heinous evil that the created universe can sustain.
All the suffering of collected humanity does not equal the suffering of the God-Man on the cross, all the sin of collected humanity does not eclipse the sin of Deicide committed on Good Friday, all the shame of collected humanity does not rival the shame of the Holy One naked and hanging on the tree, all the evil done and experienced by collected humanity does not match the evil endured in the flesh of Christ on the cross, and all the torments of all the damned for all of eternity are not greater than the torment of God forsaken on Golgotha and crushed under divine wrath. If one were to concentrate all wickedness, all perversity, all horror and shame, all sin and suffering, all that is monstrous and twisted and opposed to God from all of humanity in all places and times—past, present, and future—if one were by some diabolic miracle to do such a thing, then even that abomination would be dwarfed by what our Lord and God endured and what our Lord and God became as He hung on the cross of Calvary…..a staggering thought.
The First Fruits of Joy
And yet THIS EVENT, THIS MOMENT, THIS VICTORY OF TERROR, THIS has been turned into the greatest, the highest, the brightest, the deepest, the supremacy of all joy and hope and glory, all beauty and truth and goodness. And how was it thus transformed? By the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Consider the miracle that a crucifixion has become the blazing center of gladness and glory for all of eternity. More spectacular than turning Chaos into Cosmos, or water into wine, or even—I would contend—a dead heart into a living one, more wonderful than all of these miracles of transformation is the transformation of the cross from sorrow into joy.
When the light of Easter Morning cascades backward through time and falls on Calvary’s tree, glory streams from Golgotha. What was once only horror has become beauty, what was once only tragedy has become great victory, and—glory of glories—for all of eternity the memory of the cross is etched into image of YHWH, and His beauty is the more manifest because of it! Oh what disbelieving joy will fill the hearts of God’s people as they see—with ever increasing clarity—the beauty of their God and recognize with fresh waves of wonder that this is the one who died for me, this is the one who bears the wounds of my sin overthrown and my hell overcome. God has made this most horrific of events into the most glorious of events because He has made it the supreme communication of His heart.
History is a field sown in sorrow, and God’s people are not spared. However, the cross of Jesus Christ is the true firstfruit harvested from that field and the Lord holds it up as a promise of what is to come. Now, if God has done this—if He has cause the death of His Son to become the zenith of His glory and apogee of His saint’s joy—then what else can He not perform the same miracle upon? Is there anything more heinous that the murder of Christ? “No….” And if He has turned this event into beauty through the light of the resurrection, then is there anything—anything—which God cannot turn to glory and gladness in the presence of His risen Son?
I do not ask you to always feel it as such now—God knows that the disciples could not feel the glory of the cross on Saturday morning—and I do not ask you to imagine how it could be nor to always act as though it already were, all I mean to assert is that it can be so……and the cross proves—even—demands that it is so.
Christian, we can be confident that whatever seems to be “against us” today will turn—in its time—into a servant of our joy and God’s glory. Because, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”