Why God Dries Our Tears
II Corinthians 1:3-7
June 25, 1989
The call came about 10:30 P.M.. Someone had died. Would I please call the family? Before I could pick up the phone, the mother had called me. Her son had taken drugs and had died earlier that evening at St. Francis Hospital. As I got dressed to go to the home, I wondered what I would say. When I got there everyone was milling around in a state of confusion. At length the mother took me aside and through her tears she asked me the inevitable question, the question I had known was coming … “Why? Why did God let this happen to my son?”
It was not the first time I have had no satisfactory answer to that question, and unfortunately it won’t be the last. For when you look at the questions of life and death, when you consider the problems of this death-sentenced generation, even the most fervent believer looks up to the heavens and cries out, “Why? Why me? Why now? Why this?”
It’s a question that does not admit of an easy answer. Indeed, the most godly believers have sometimes wondered about the ways of God. And if Job never got an answer, what can I expect? Indeed, as I read the Bible I don’t think there is one single answer to that question.
But there are answers. And men and women of faith have found them true throughout the centuries. What I have to say to you this morning is not a complete answer to the question, “Why did this happen?” I’m not smart enough or wise enough to give you a complete answer.
An Unexpected Answer In An Unexpected Place
But there is an answer tucked away in the Bible which may satisfy you. It is found in one of those books in the New Testament that we don’t read very much—the book of II Corinthians. The answer is tucked away in the very first verses of the first chapter of II Corinthians. There you will find a perspective on the heartaches of life that may help you.
Whenever tragedy comes to our house, the tendency is almost irresistible to look back over our shoulders, to peer back into the past, to search through the pages of days gone by, to wonder if we can’t find some unconfessed sin or the record of some kindness left undone. We search the past for some glaring misdeed that will explain why misfortune has come our way. We think that maybe some unconfessed sin will rise up to greet us and we will have our answer. “Aha!” we say, “We deserved this tragedy.”
The temptation to do that is almost irresistible, but that approach almost always leaves us confused and frustrated. Who can really total up the record of his life and be sure he has counted everything accurately?
There is another reason trials and troubles come to us. It’s the reason Paul gives in II Corinthians 1:3-7. Some things happen to us so that when we are comforted by God we are then able to comfort someone else. The purpose is not necessarily in the trial itself, but in how we respond and what we do after the trial is over. God comforts you so that you might comfort others.
The Great Principle
Verses 3-4 state the great principle. There is a divine purpose at work in your life and in mine and that divine purpose begins with God. He’s called two things in verse 3. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort”. First, he is called “the Father of compassion.” Dad, do you remember what it was like when your kids got sick? They would have a tummy ache or a headache or they would be kind of cranky and you would say to your wife, “Honey, take care of them.” And your wife would do what she could and finally the time would come to put the kids in bed and they would still be whining and crying.
That happened many times with all three of our boys, especially when our oldest son, Joshua, was very young. We would put Joshua to bed and Marlene would have done her ministrations and she was exhausted. Joshua would lay in bed, and he would cry wanting something or somebody. Like a good father, I would roll over in bed and put the pillow over my head, hoping that Marlene would get up. Eventually I would go to Joshua’s room and pick up my son. I would put him over my shoulder and walk around the house and sing, “Good little boys don’t cry, cry, cry. Good little boys don’t cry, cry, cry. Good little boys don’t cry, cry, cry, ’Cause it makes their daddy mad.” We would walk back and forth through the night. I did it many times. After 30-45 minutes of singing and walking he would finally fall asleep. I would put him back to bed and go back to bed myself.
Now I’m not a perfect father, but I would do that for my son. Would God do any less for me? No, he would do far more. He is a Father of Compassion.
The God Of All Comfort
There is a second title he is given in verse three. He is called the God of all comfort. The word for comfort comes from the Greek word that means to come alongside someone and help them out. I see a fellow walking down the road, stooped over, with a heavy load on his back. He is tired and weary and it is hot. As you watch him bending lower and lower, the thought occurs, “If I don’t help this fellow, he is going to fall.” So you come over, take the load off his back and put it on your back and you help him carry it. That’s what it means to comfort someone in the biblical sense. You see them carrying a heavy load and you take it and put it on your own back. Paul is telling us that God is like that. He sees us in our burdens, he sees us in our difficulties, he sees us in our hard times and he, the God of the Universe, comes and takes the load off and carries it himself.
Not only that, but when God does it, he does it all the time. Notice what verse 4 says, “Who comforts us in all our troubles.” That means that when I am sick, he is there by my bedside. When I run out of money, he is there with me in my poverty. When I am hated and despised, he is with me outside the camp. And when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he takes me by the hand and he leads me on through.
A Great Missionary Purpose
That much we already know. But there is something you may not know. It’s a wonderful perspective on the trials of life. Verse 4 tells us that there is a great purpose at work in the comfort we receive from God. He “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” What an insight! There is great missionary purpose in the tragedies of life. God is at work in a very unusual way in the hardships of your life. God allows some things to come to you and me so that after he has comforted us, we might then go and lift the burden from someone else.
A number of years ago, I attended a large Christian college in the Southeast. It was founded by a man who was a very dynamic preacher who built the school over a number of years into a thriving institution of several thousand students. The heartbeat of the whole school was the church that was associated with it. Every Sunday morning and every Sunday night the founder of the school would preach great messages. He was a pulpit giant and it is also fair to say that he was a very strong man. You didn’t want to cross him because he did not suffer fools gladly.
“It Was God’s Will That He Lose His Voice”
When I was a student, the founder of the school had a very unusual thing happen to him. He lost his voice. That’s the worst thing that can happen to a preacher. This man had built the school on his preaching ministry. He didn’t know what he was going to do. He lost his voice so completely that he could barely get up and address the congregation. He traveled across America trying to get his voice back. Finally, he went to a clinic where they performed an operation that solved the problem. Soon after this dynamic leader resumed his ministry, I talked to a man who had known him for over a quarter of a century. He made a comment I have never forgotten. “It was God’s will that he lose his voice. For many years he had a hard time understanding people who weren’t as strong and energetic as he was. He tended to be very hard on people with weaknesses. Now there is a new note of compassion in his ministry.”
That is exactly what the Apostle Paul is talking about. Our afflictions soften our hearts so that when we have received the comfort of God it is easy for us to pass it along to someone else. O, how we need it in the church of Jesus Christ. It is so easy to be callous. It is so convenient to be unkind. It is so easy for us to look down our noses at weaker brothers and sisters who go through hard times. We say so carelessly, “Why don’t they just get tough? Why don’t they show some backbone? Why don’t they quit complaining and get on with life? Why don’t they just be strong like the rest of us?” It is so easy to be that way. The Apostle Paul is telling us that one of the reasons God lets you and me go through hard times is to break us of that attitude and to soften us up so that we will be able to minister in the name of Jesus Christ to other hurting people.
Here, then, is a mighty principle that answers many questions. Many of us have hardened places in our lives that will not become tender until we go through the fires of affliction. God lets it happen so that we might reach out to others and comfort them.
Sharing In The Sufferings Of Christ
Verse 5 gives us the great provision that makes this sharing of comfort possible. Paul says, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Paul is not implying that we somehow share in the vicarious sufferings of Jesus Christ, as if the work of Jesus Christ on the cross were not enough. That’s not what he is saying. He’s not saying that as Jesus died for the sins of the world there is a way in which we can die for the sins of others. No, he’s not talking about that at all.
Let me explain it this way: When Jesus was on the earth he didn’t walk an easy road. When Jesus was on the earth he knew suffering and privation and hardship and discouragement and opposition and persecution. Paul is saying that those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ will know the same things. We are not exempt from sick-ness and hardship and suffering, and all of those things that are part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
When I pastored in California, I would come down to the church early on Sunday morning to work on my sermon. Then I would walk throughout the sanctuary, stopping at different pews to pray for people by name. It’s easy, because people always sit in the same place. When I was in California I would pray for Carl Hale who sat on the right about six pews back. Rick and Joanne Hale always sat down front. Stan and Jan Quillan would be almost halfway back. I would walk up and down the aisles of my church and I would stop and pray where I knew my people would be sitting in just a few hours. Here is the truth: I never got through the whole congregation. Not because there were so many people, but because there were so many problems.
Some of you understand exactly what Paul is talking about, that those who believe in Jesus Christ share in his sufferings. As he suffered on this earth, so shall we.
The Wounded Healer
Our text is telling us more than that. It’s telling us that as the suffering overflows, even more so does the com-fort. Look back at that verse, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” You see where it says “flow over” and then “overflows”? It is the same word in the Greek text. Sufferings overflow. Comfort overflows. The greater the suffering, the greater the comfort. The greater the comfort, the more I have to share with others.
What a thought. My sufferings qualify me to minister to other people. Henri Nouwen has written a book enti-tled The Wounded Healer. He meant it, I think, as a description of the pastor, but it applies to every Christian. We are all wounded with the failures of life and the things that weigh us down. And it is to wounded men and women that God has committed the great ministry of healing other people.
The Man From Belgium
An amazing thing happened in Dallas about a week and a half ago. Herman Moody, a 47 year old import-export specialist, was dying of leukemia. The cancer center at Baylor Hospital told him he had only one chance. “You need a bone marrow transplant. That’s all we can do for you now. You’re dying of leukemia.” They told him it had to be a perfect match. So they took a sample of his bone marrow and put it into the computer system, the world-wide registry of people who have volunteered to donate their bone marrow. They found a match. Only one problem. The man was in Belgium. A week and a half ago he flew from Belgium to Dallas. Almost a liter of bone marrow was taken from his hip and given to Herman Moody.
A man, who is living, giving to save a man who is dying. It’s a long way from Belgium to Texas. Why would a man do a thing like that, especially for someone he had never met before? He said something like this: “Several years ago my brother died of cancer, and his death broke my heart. After he died I promised God that if I could, I would help someone else stay alive. That’s when I signed up on the bone marrow registry.” But that’s not the whole story. The man from Belgium said, “When I go to church, I hear the priest talking about loving my neighbor. How could I refuse to help my brother if he is in need? When they called and asked if I would travel to Dallas, as a Christian I could not say no.”
That’s what Paul is saying. Once we have suffered, we are able to comfort others out of the overflowing comfort of Jesus Christ.
Pebbles In A Pond
Paul was not content to let the matter rest there. So he offers the Great Example—the example of his own life. He states it quite plainly in verse 6: “If we are distressed, it is for your salvation and comfort; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” On one hand, when he suffered the result was their comfort and salvation. How? He ministered to them the comfort God gave him. On the other hand, when he was comforted they learned encouragement from him so they would patiently endure those same sufferings.
Let’s put it another way. We start with Paul. He undergoes rejection and opposition to preach the gospel. In the midst of his trials, the God of all comfort comes alongside and takes the heavy load off his shoulders. And Paul is comforted. The Corinthians see that and as they suffer the same things, Paul comes alongside and takes the heavy load off their shoulders. So instead of quitting under pressure, they develop patient endurance.
Have you ever gone to a pond out in the country and thrown a pebble in the water? What happens? From the point where the pebble enters the water, ripples spread out farther and farther. What started from one small pebble soon effects the whole pond.
That’s a picture of what God is doing in your life. He is comforting you in your trials so that you might comfort another who may comfort another who may comfort another. And the ripple effect spreads out from you to people you never even meet.
And that brings us back, finally, to the place where we began. To the uncertainties of life, to the midnight phone call, to the hospital, or to the funeral home. Back to the place where we ask, “Why has this happened?”
There is no one answer that can fully contain God’s purposes. No human could ever fully comprehend the Almighty. But these verses offer a perspective we need to remember. God is at work in your life in the time of suffering. Among many other things, he is preparing you to minister to others. God dries your tears so that you might do the same for someone else.
Why Some Christians Never Have A Ministry To Others
But some believers never discover this truth. They are perpetual gripers when things get difficult. Life is never fair, they always get the short end of the stick, they feel like God has singled them out for punishment.
Such people never have a ministry to others. They’ve constantly fought against God’s perspective on their trials. As a consequence, their life remains tough and hardened when it ought to be soft and tender. And they have nothing to pass along to anyone else.
I don’t want to be that way. Therefore, I’m going to take whatever the Lord gives me, the good with the bad. And I’m going to share his comfort with the people all around me who need some encouragement.
May I suggest one simple step of application? Many of us would like a personal ministry but we don’t know where to begin. This passage suggests that our personal ministry begins as we share with others what God has shared with us. That means there must be some people out there who need the help only you can give. There are people in your life who need a word of encouragement … and you are the only one who can give that word. There are people in your life who are staggering beneath a heavy load … and you are the only one who can lift the burden off their shoulders. There are some people in your life who are about to quit … and you are the only one who can keep them in the race. There are some people in your life who have been hit with an incred-ible string of trials … and you are the only one who can help them bear it.
Those people are around you. Your only problem is that you don’t see them. Therefore, this is what you should pray for: Missionary Eyes. Missionary Eyes are eyes that see the real needs of the people you meet. Ask God to give you at least one person you can help this week. Pray that God will bring at least one person across your path who needs the help only you can give.
That’s a prayer God will answer because there are folks all over this area—in Cicero, Berwyn, Oak Brook, Chicago, Park Ridge, Elmwood Park, River Forest, Forest Park, and right here in Oak Park—who are barely making it this morning. You see them where you work, you live next door to many of them. Your children go to school with their children.
Ask God to give you at least one person you can help this week. And then ask him for Missionary Eyes to make you sensitive to that person.
They are out there—right outside our doors—waiting for the believers to give them help. Here we are on the inside—recipients of the goodness of God. God has put us here for a purpose: that we might take what we have received and go from this place to share it with those who desperately need it.
God dries our tears that we might do the same for someone else.