A sad accompaniment of sojourning this world as a liberated-slave to a sin nature is the reality that we still endure much pain and sorrow along the way. Be it death, broken relationships, hopes deferred, sundry and varied persecutions, chronic infirmities, geographical distance from Christians and family members, and the list could go on and on.
The kind of sorrows I have found to be particularly acute in my pilgrimage plodding the treacherous terrains that lead up to the celestial city are the ones that come from without. That is, I have ready-made, biblical-theological categories for the repercussions of my own sin—aggressive and active as it is! I know where to go with it in prayer, Scripture, and Christian community. It has become a well trod road in my soul and I hope in yours as well. But the sorrows pressed upon me by other’s sin or outside influences have proven to be more difficult for my reckonings.
It’s not that I haven’t read—and even memorized!—Romans 8:28, or even that it has not been a great boon to me in times of soul-wrestling or anguish. It’s just that when I repeat, meditate, and apply it to my soul’s stitches and pains, it is often still attended by great sorrow. In other words, it doesn’t satiate the sorrow. To be honest, I don’t think Paul meant it to! I think he meant Romans 8:28 to be a signpost of sorts and a hope igniter, not an outright cure! Our doctrine of the fall of man should teach us this. There is irreparable damage that has taken place every time you found yourself gazing upon a black casket through tear filled eyes. Jesus himself paid those damages, if you know him, but they are still real damages. I don’t believe we are capable in this realm to fully take the sting out of death and all that leads up to it (1 Corinthians 15:55). It’s a curse. Some sorrows just have a way of Velcroing themselves to the side of your soul and remain a constant companion for the duration of the journey.
Even in all of our gospel-centeredness, we still sorrow at the necessity of the cross. For salvation to have dawned, the cross was unavoidable. The cross and resurrection of our Christ sorrows us so deeply because it is our sins that he bore as he mounted Calvary. It was our sin that placed him on death row from eternity past. Death was our fit wages, and we’re told in the Sacred Script that either we will receive for an eternity times eternity those earnings, or in God’s incalculable grace Jesus’s atoning work will be applied to us and our wages transferred to him. But that’s the beginning of the end of our sorrows, not the full stop.
I don’t want to request a moratorium on the usage of Romans 8:28 in application to our sorrow—that’s why it is there! But I do wish that we could all take a break from posturing the text as a cure-all. Its not a magical wand to be abracadabra’d over our brokenness and fractures. No, I think it’s a better fit as a signal waving us homeward to the place, person, and realm where the cure will finally be actualized. We instinctively know that these sorrows pile up and cul-de-sac here on earth, and that’s unavoidable. I simply wish to suggest the coupling of Romans 8:28 with that of Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away” (HCSB).
Did you see it?
It is when resurrection life is our standard that all sorrows on account of death will be dealt the death blow.
It is in the New Heavens and the New Earth where tear ducts will be obsolete.
It is at Heaven where we’ll be with our Savior who didn’t flinch at the unavoidable cross. He didn’t shrink back from our irreparable damages but chose to absorb them into the infinitudinal reservoirs of his love. Whole universes of spaces that span the distance of as far as the East is from the West.
Until the New Heavens and the New Earth, wear your mourning like a badge of love from your Savior, knowing he will one day plug every tear duct and satiate every sorrow.