Everything that happens on the surface of this dappled planet, from the deepest joy to the most unspeakable tragedy, is a tangle of grief and celebration. We spend our days trying to separate the one from the other, yet we’re baffled that we cannot.
My brother and his wife recently had their first baby, a beautiful little boy with miniature fingernails, a dimpled chin, and velvety blond hair covering his head like dandelion fluff. This baby has flooded their marriage with enormous joy, and anyone who observes them can sense it. My brother and his wife practically radiate their delight in this new child, shining with their pride and affection for him.
However, this tiny human living in their small home demands their time, their finances, and their energy. The dynamics of their relationship are permanently altered. This baby limits them in many ways, and though he is a source of great celebration, an aspect of loss mixes with this joy. I remember a similar feeling on the day this same brother married his wife. I was confused at the grief that kept welling up in me, convinced I should feel nothing but happiness for him. But this day meant the family of six I had known my entire life would take a permanent back seat to his marriage, and this realization was a source of grief for me despite my joy for the two of them. There are elements of sorrow in even the happiest moments because threads of grief are coursing through this broken world.
The opposite is true as well. People are often surprised when in the midst of the most crippling tragedies they experience strange moments of peace, hope, and even joy and gratitude. A few months ago, my friend’s younger brother died saving his girlfriend from a collapsing basement wall as a tornado tore through the Alabama town where they attended college. There are no words to capture the grief that flooded the hearts of those who knew and loved him, and I will not attempt to do so. I was unable to attend his funeral in Mississippi, but some friends and I gathered in a hot Manhattan apartment a few days later, and we prayed. Some of us knew the young man and his family; some had only heard of him. But we poured out our hearts to God and to each other, our words mingling with the voices that moved along the sidewalk below the open window. Hot tears spilled down my cheeks—tears of sorrow, confusion, weariness at the brokenness in the world, and anger at the injustice of death. Yet through the tears, I felt an inexpressible hope of something almost too beautiful to bear, and I wanted to weep even more at the realization of it.
Death does not have the final word, for Christ has conquered it and ensured that one day even death will die. Through his own death on the cross, Jesus has ensured that we will never be condemned to the death we deserve. He has already borne the weight of our sin on his shoulders and fully paid the price we should have paid. And through his resurrection from the dead, he has guaranteed the ultimate and final victory of life over death. Justice triumphs over injustice; light eludes the reach of even the blackest darkness. Jesus is making all things new, not just in our own hearts but in the cosmos as a whole. He has promised that all things will be made right. We celebrate that even the deepest tragedy is subject to this truth.
We live between overlapping realities—one broken and another being healed. Joy and sorrow, grief and celebration, cannot be locked away in separate compartments. Yet that’s what we try to do. Looking at one without the other means we see only a portion of the whole story of this broken world being healed. When we look at grief on its own we fail to see that God is healing the world through the work of Jesus, that he is making things beautiful and turning darkness into light before us. When we live only in light of reasons to celebrate, as if joy is the only reality, we banish all thoughts of grief and turn a blind eye to the brokenness in ourselves and in the world. We forget how much we have been rescued from, and we ignore the fact that we still need healing. We ought not to be surprised when we find traces of pain in joy or beauty in sorrow, for this is the nature of living in a broken world being redeemed.
The cross itself is the ultimate example of this intricate web of sorrow and joy. Jesus experienced sorrow incomprehensible, dying a gruesome and lonely death to absorb the entirety of God’s wrath toward evil in our place. This immense suffering is what leads to his ultimate exaltation in Revelation 5:12: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Somehow, this gruesome, tragic event of his crucifixion is the very thing God uses to redeem the arc of history, reconcile sinners to himself, and heal every aspect of the world he created. We were not made to know death or pain or loss, and the cross guarantees that one day, all of creation will be restored to its rightful design.
Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantee this promise from Revelation 21:4: “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.” That day we will only know the reality for which we were created, the reality of joy no longer laced with grief.