We say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” But how does that relate to suffering and the pain of this life? With the opening of the new 9/11 museum in Manhattan back in May, we are once again reminded of the permanent pain of September 11, 2001. Can the gospel really offer joy to us in the uncertain times of a post-9/11 world? This was the question at hand in 2005 on the fourth anniversary of 9/11, which happened to land on a Sunday. Pastor John took up this question in the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Here’s a clip of what he said.
All Things, No Exceptions
One of the truths that we embrace with trembling joy at Bethlehem is the truth of God’s supremacy in all things. This is the mission of this church: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” When we say that, we do not mean, “except in calamities,” or “except in war,” or “except when al Qaeda blows up a building or train,” or “except when cancer takes a mom or a child is born with profound disabilities.” There are no “except” clauses in our mission statement.
“The joy we pursue and embrace in Jesus Christ is always, in this world, interwoven with sorrow. There is no unadulterated joy on planet earth while history lasts.”
We did not formulate this mission statement in 1995 in a rosy world and then get surprised by the reality of suffering. We didn’t formulate this mission statement for this church with our head in the sand as though we didn’t know people in this church die and agonize with suffering. We have seen many people die in twenty-five years, some with sweet peacefulness and others with terrible suffering. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things — All things with a capital A — through Jesus Christ. All the time. No exceptions.
None of us who have lived a few decades (and I am moving toward six of them) have embraced this mission without trembling. None of us have lived this mission for any length of time without tears. We have said dozens and dozens of times — and we will say it till our last breath — that the joy we pursue and embrace in Jesus Christ is always, in this world, interwoven with sorrow. There is no unadulterated joy on planet earth while history lasts — not for those who care about other people.
Mingled Joy and Sorrow
The Bible describes the servants of the Lord like this: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). How in the world can that be? It can be this way because Christ is supreme over all things forever — yet suffering and death remain for a while.
“Suffering remains for a while in this world, and Christ is supreme now and forever after this world.”
Therefore, life is not simple. There is pleasure, and there is pain. There is sweetness, and there is bitter suffering. There is joy, and there is misery. There is life and health, and there is pain and disease and death. Therefore, emotions are not simple.
For those who love others and don’t just care about maximizing their own comforts in a private little sphere, this complexity will always mean we “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We always know somebody rejoicing, and we always know somebody weeping. Therefore, we will — in love — discover the mystery of “sorrowful yet always rejoicing,” and rejoicing yet always sorrowful. If you haven’t found that mystery, you haven’t lived long yet, or you don’t love people, or you are not a Christian.
“Sorrowful yet always rejoicing” is the banner that flies over this church, because suffering remains for a while in this world, and Christ is supreme now and forever after this world.