Anxiety & Depression, Hope Why Do We Experience Sadness?

By Michelle Williams

On Palm Sunday, Pastor Amy Christie delivered a sermon about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. From the perspective of his followers, they experienced this day with hope, excitement, and celebration. But from Jesus’ perspective, we know he was feeling something a bit different. Jesus was experiencing a deep sadness.

But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you. Luke 19:41-44

We have begun to explore a set of human emotions that are typically characterized as negative or undesirable, along with the potential purposes that God had in mind when equipping humans with these feelings. So far, we’ve taken a look at fear, doubt, anger, guilt, and even insecurity. I believe our emotions, even the “negative” ones, are part of God’s sophisticated plan to lead us into His love. God may use these emotions in various ways above and beyond what I have speculated to prompt us toward a valuable next step in our personal spiritual journeys. And because God uses our emotions to guide us, evil will also attempt to seize command over us through our emotions. The more awareness we bring to the experience of our emotions, the more power God will grant us to choose a response that brings glory to His name.

Back to sadness. Jesus experienced sadness as he wept over the death of Lazarus, on his way into Jerusalem during the Triumphal Entry, and also following a difficult exchange with the Pharisees later that week. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Matthew 23:37-39 Let’s look at what Jesus does with his sadness to see what we can learn about the purposes God may have for it.

With the death of Lazarus, Jesus' response to his experience of sadness was connecting with others over the shared loss. Have you noticed how healthy communities rally around families in times of grief and loss? Strong and lasting bonds are formed when we engage in meaningful connection with each other during times of sadness. God designed us for community and sometimes sadness can help us build it. I think Jesus demonstrated this for us through his grief over Lazarus, knowing that we would eventually understand that God is also with us in our sadness.

I believe the sadness Jesus experienced and expressed during Holy Week was a way of connecting with God through the shared experience of a broken heart. I’ve heard it said that our hearts break for what breaks God’s heart because we are created in His image. As divine, Jesus knew this intrinsically. As a human, we have to seek this understanding to accept that God’s power can live and work in us. Sadness can serve as a prompt to commune with God so that we can seek and surrender to His will. 

If you’ve been around Grace Church for a while, you have probably heard the phrase “low-grade fever of sadness” many times. Dave Rodriguez (a.k.a. Dave Rod’), our founding senior pastor, would talk a lot about suffering from a low-grade fever of sadness. I’ve heard Barry reference it a few times recently as well. If our hearts break for what breaks God’s heart, it makes sense that we would become inflicted with a persistent low-grade fever of sadness when our hearts start to burn with a passion for the mission of God—which is to restore our broken world. God grieves over the brokenness of our world—our separation from Him, the decay of Creation, our isolation from others, our pain, our experience of hatred, and the suffering of His children in the face of injustice. Doesn’t our sadness also stem from the brokenness of our world?

Jesus knew God’s will for his life—he knew that he came into this broken world to initiate its restoration so that we could live with God in a perfect New Creation for eternity. I believe his sadness during Holy Week afforded him a greater resolve to accomplish God’s purpose for his life. Everything he taught his disciples would prepare them (and ultimately us) to let their coming experience of sadness be transformed into action for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus taught us to flip the tables of injustice and interrupt the suffering it causes. He taught us that love for our enemies is more powerful than hate. He taught us that we can forgive others instead of reflecting our pain back into the broken world. He showed us that when we build community and call on each other’s strengths, we can effectively take care of each other through life’s ups and downs. He ushered us into our roles as stewards of Creation and promised he would return to live with us in its perfectly restored state. And as he hung dying on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 Jesus understood that we were separated from God, and its consequences broke his heart. He also knew exactly what he needed to do to fix it. 

Before he died on the cross, Jesus prepared his disciples to let their coming sadness prompt them to seek and surrender to God’s will instead of allowing evil to take hold of their emotions for the purposes of death and destruction. And once he rose from that grave, he infused his disciples’ resolve with great hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!

If and when we experience sadness, let’s allow it to deliver us into the love of Jesus Christ. Because when we draw close and accept Jesus as our Savior, he transforms our hearts and we are infused with that same hopeful faith that has spanned generations since his resurrection. Through the same power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to join God in His mission of restoring shalom to our broken world, bringing glory to His name, and living in His presence with the perfect peace and community of New Creation for eternity. Amen!


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