"With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow."
(Jeremiah 31:9, 13)
The promise of the Lord is to lead us, to transform our mourning and our sorrow, to bring us joy and gladness in Him. "I will turn their mourning into joy." But how can this possibly happen?
Sorrow is like a wound forever opened, and we mourn over what is lost beyond all recovery. Can this really change? The really deep sorrows, like the tragic loss of someone we love... how can these sorrows be turned into joy?
We really don't understand what this means. These are the sorrows that we make a certain kind of "peace" with, after awhile. The world tells us to "move on with life" and to forget, and in sense we have to do this, we have to "carry on" just to survive. But no one really forgets the deep sorrows. We learn to carry them with us. We find a way to "come to terms" with them. We live with open wounds.
But if we really have faith in the promise of the Lord, then we also have something more. We have hope. In faith and in hope, we know that God has made our sorrows His own. He has borne them all the way to the end.
God has revealed His love for us. God is Love.
God has revealed His infinite glory, His infinite mystery. But after 20 centuries of Christianity, the words "God is Love" can sound sentimental. We want "love" to be trivial, and so we make God trivial. We consign Him to the superficial places, to the margins of life. We keep His love at a distance, as though it were some vague comforting story.
We do not want to think about real love, because it is so fundamental and mysterious, because it encompasses sacrifice, and because our human experience of love is so often one of failure, limitations, and disappointment. And love is so often for us the road to sorrow.
We love someone, and then they die.
How can we bear this? We envision a hazy "afterlife," strange and inaccessible, or else we allow them to disappear into a supercosmic nirvana. But in life we knew a human person, someone we could walk with, by brooks of water. Here is our great sorrow: we want to walk again with the person we love. We want to see two pairs of feet, and instead we only see one. We walk alone.
And then, a stranger appears.
He walks with us. We don't know who the stranger is, but hope is awakened within our hearts. Are we willing to follow that hope, and take the stranger into the home of our hearts? Or will we let him pass by?
Only if we let the stranger in will he open our eyes. He will show us that he has all the deep wounds of our sorrows. He has them.
But there is no easy way to learn this. We have to let the stranger in. We have to see His humanity and let the fire of hope burn in us.
Then we will begin to discover that the promise has been fulfilled, that love is not a lie or a trick, that our sorrow is even now being turned to joy.