Sorrow And The Door To Joy

“As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter.”

George MacDonald, from Phantastes

    “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:2-12 ESV

Scripture tells the Christian to count it all joy when God gives us trials and sufferings and sorrows. It’s the way of the cross, and we shouldn’t hope for a different lot than our King willingly took on for us. And because sorrow in this life is the way of the cross and the way of the King, we can have a secure hope, as MacDonald profoundly put it, that sorrow will fling wide the doors of joy that sorrow herself may not enter. Let sorrow come, because God redeems it in the lives of His children – sorrow opens the door to the greatest joys, and God completes us with it.

I think what James gets at, is that God gives us even more of Himself through our sorrows. So, again I say let them come. Let them bring us more of God, and more of Joy than we would’ve had any other way.

George MacDonald and Confidence in the Good to Come

Today I finished reading Phantastes by George MacDonald. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now, ever since I came across C.S. Lewis’ mention of it in Surprised by Joy. Lewis described reading this book as the real start in the conversion process God would work on him.

Though Lewis is a hero of mine, and I trust his perspective on things a lot of the time (not always, to be sure), I felt several times through Phantastes like I just wasn’t getting the book. But by the end, I definitely appreciated what MacDonald was up to. By the end of the story, the main character Anodos realizes that everyday life has an always-present, very real spiritual side. “Faerie Land” becomes the vehicle whereby Anodos, and the reader, are told this truth.

At the end, Anodos remembers his conversations with a wise, good old woman in Faerie Land, whom he observes, “knew something too good to be told.” Anodos knows by the end that there’s a greater, good purpose behind all of his life. He concludes his story with this statement: “Yet I know that good is coming to me — that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it…FAREWELL.”

I do not agree with a lot of what MacDonald believed. He didn’t believe an eternal Hell could exist, for one thing; if you’re interested, you can read a biblical debunking of this in the end notes of John Piper’s Desiring God. But I’m moved by how MacDonald portrays the confidence of knowing this life, the way it is now, is hastening on in God’s good purposes, to a final redemption and resurrection. Romans 8:28,29 (ESV) says,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

These are weighty, hopeful truths for a Christian. We have been saved from our sin by Christ’s sacrifice for us; God has made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5), and we wait with great expectation for Christ’s return and our glorification with Him. May God grant us “the simplicity and the courage,” by His Spirit, to believe His words to His children.