Grief, depression, sorrow, self-pity, fear, pain, distress, all of these are part of the lives of so very many people today. While every experience is different in some ways, all seem to have some similar patterns and causes. For example, in each of the situations we face, our emotions love to build on each other. Sadness leads to sadness. Depression spirals downward to the darkness of despair. Grief can, if unchecked, build upon itself until we have reached a point that we feel ourselves too low to ever get out of the Slough of Despond.
One of the hardest things about situations of emotional darkness is that, as we face them, we so often tell ourselves lies in the middle of our pain. And often, the lies we tell ourselves perpetuate the cycle of sorrow. Don’t get me wrong, we may not at all intent to lie to ourselves. But we allow ourselves to think things that keep our dark emotions swirling, digging deeper and deeper down.
What kinds of lies do we tell? Sometimes, we shape our thinking as if this life was all there is. When we can only focus on the earthly, the temporal, the here and now, we lie to ourselves. Forgetting eternity is lying to ourselves. The lie is that heaven, eternity with the Lord, will not outweigh our pain in the here and now. It is false to believe that the God who sees us will not be enough to comfort us.
Sometimes we set our minds on a false center point. We let ourselves believe that we are the center of the universe. Again, we would not say it aloud, but, for the season of sorrow, we behave as if there is no god, and as if our experience is the only truth that exists.
Sometimes the lie we let ourselves believe is that nobody understands us. Nobody has gone through or is going through the kinds of sorrow and pain that we face. And so, when friends want to comfort us, we cannot be open to their kindness. We wall ourselves off, feeling the isolation of being alone in a universe that has set us personally apart for a pain that nobody else can grasp.
It was this last falsehood that we let ourselves believe that caught my attention as I was pondering Scripture this morning. What does the word say to us about feeling like we are walking down a road that nobody else can imagine?
Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the High Priest over us, the Lord Jesus, understands. He knows our temptations. And do not miss the fact that when we tell ourselves lies, we are tempted to sin. When we let ourselves believe that we are alone in the universe, we are not believing truth. The Lord Jesus has faced pain like ours. He understands.
Really? Does Jesus really know what it is like to feel the depth of personal, emotional despair? Does he know what it feels like to face utter blackness and disappointment? Does he know what my pain feels like?
Let us honestly consider the night that the Savior had in the garden before his arrest. Jesus looked forward, and he saw hell. When Jesus considered what was about to happen, he knew that the plan was for God the Father to pour out on him, God the son, every ounce of wrath and judgment that God the Father has for every sin that God the Father would ever forgive. Jesus was about to become the instrument of God’s justice, the sacrificial substitute to save the souls of all who would come to him.
Understand that, in order to save our souls, Jesus must pay our penalty. And do not be so small-minded as to think that the physical sufferings of the cross are the only payment that Jesus made. We cannot fathom what was happening in the spiritual realm. We cannot grasp what the punishment would have been like. But get this truth: The proper punishment for my sins would have cost me an eternity in hell under the wrath of God. Jesus took that punishment upon himself while on the cross. But it was not only my punishment, my hell, that Jesus took. He also took the same type of punishment for all of the sins of all the forgiven.
Look at how Jesus personally felt looking forward to the price he was about to pay.
Mark 14:32-36 – 32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
What did Jesus feel? He was greatly distressed, troubled, and sorrowful to the point of death. We know from other accounts that the Savior actually sweat drops of blood from his forehead, the pressure and emotional agony was so great. (That is, by the way, a genuine medical condition that can happen to people under tremendous pressure and pain.)
Jesus asked God the Father if there might be any possible way to save his people other than having to die in their place and suffer punishment equivalent to their hells. But Jesus also accepted that, at the end of the day, the Father’s will must be done. The plan that he and the Father and the Spirit agreed upon in eternity past would be carried out.
Now, return to your distress and mine. Return to our sorrow. We hurt. We feel the blackness of sorrow and hopeless despair. And we tell ourselves that nobody knows. We tell ourselves that we are walking a path that nobody has ever walked but us. Nobody understands our pain.
And we must grasp that what we are telling ourselves is a lie. Jesus knows. If anybody would understand, Jesus would. He faced the weight of the eternal wrath of God for sinners he would save. He looked in the blackest pain that has ever been manufactured by the fury of God for sin. He saw it coming his way and that there was no way out. He knew where he was going. He knew he was taking to himself a level of pain and sorrow and shame that none of us has ever dreamed of feeling.
Jesus knows. Are you disappointed in your life? Are your dreams not coming true? Does it feel like the world has handed you a raw deal? Do you feel unloved? Do you feel misunderstood? Jesus knows. He received the rawest deal of all. He felt the deepest disappointment of all. He suffered the greatest emotional distress of any person ever. He faced the blackest future of any person ever. He gets it. He gets you. No matter what kind of pain it is, he has faced an emotion to match, yet without sin.
So, as we face our sorrows, can we start by telling ourselves the truth? Jesus knows. Can we remember that we are not alone. And, can we remember that, because of what Jesus suffered on our behalf, we can have life forever in the presence of the lord. And, the life we will have in the presence of God will bring to us a fulfillment and a joy that will outweigh, that will more than counterbalance, every sorrow and pain and disappointment and distress of this life. Jesus knows us. He understands us. And he is the High Priest who brings prayers for us into the throne room of God. So may we battle our darkest feelings with the blazing bright truth that we are not alone, not at all.