“How Can Faith Survive a Flood of Grief?”

“How Can Faith Survive a Flood of Grief?”

Romans 8:18-30

Grief.  Why preach on this subject on Mother’s Day of all days?  For starters, women in childbearing age are more prone to depression than men, and according to PsychCentral, are twice as likely to battle depression than men.[1]  There are many factors for this that we do not have the time this morning to address, but besides the genetic, biochemical, and situational dynamics that factor into depression in mothers, mothers tend to find their sense of purpose in motherhood while most admit that the role of a mother is the most difficult and stressful things experienced.  So, although this is not a sermon on motherhood specifically, a sermon on grief could not be more appropriate for Mother’s Day.   

In this room is represented a host of hurts, disappointments, and lives that do not look at all what was envisioned.  In his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Timothy Keller wrote in the introduction: “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”[2]  We live in the kind of world were you will inevitably experience something that vandalizes something you have worked hard to protect and keep. 

On October 9, 2021 Cliff Abraham succumbed to complications due to COVID.  Cliff and his wife Bonnie hosted one of our Life Groups.  Cliff loved Jesus, his wife, and his children; his youngest child, Rachael was especially close to her father.  I preached on Romans 8 at Cliff’s memorial service held right here at Meadowbrooke Church.  Sometime ago Rachael asked if she could meet with me because she continued to struggle with overwhelming grief in the wake of her father’s death as she was trying to hold on to her faith.  Rachael suggested the inclusion of a sermon on grief in this sermon series and offered to share some of her story as well.  Towards the end of my sermon, I am going to have Rachael come up to the stage and join me to do just that. 

I would like to think of this sermon as the second part to the sermon I preached at Cliff’s memorial service.  My sermon then was on Romans 8:1-4, 28-39; at the time I did not feel the need to spend a whole lot of time on verse 18.  I do think that it is appropriate to do so today.

My hope for each of you this morning is that you are able to cling onto the kind of hope that sustained the apostle Paul and so many other Christ followers.  Think about this: When Paul was in prison, while not knowing what would come next, he wrote to a group of Christians in Philippi, “…for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:19–21).  In his last letter to Timothy, when an execution for Paul was immanent, he wrote: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6–8).

When you read any of the epistles the apostle Paul had written, it becomes glaringly obvious that he was holding onto something that made whatever hurt he experienced worth it.  This did not mean that Paul was some kind of super Christian or that he didn’t experience days that seemed too much to bear.  If you are wondering what kind of suffering Paul experienced in his lifetime, he was arrested numerous times and spent countless hours under house arrest and in prison cells, he was beaten so often that he lost count.  However, the worst of what he suffered for his faith he lists for us in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28; listen to what he experienced from his own words:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24–28)

Against the backdrop of the many ways Paul suffered, he wrote Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  In this single sentence, we discover what it was that kept Paul from being swallowed up by grief and despair.  In this sentence is the reason why he could write to the Corinthian Church: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:8–10).

We Will Suffer Before We Experience Glory

Now, I do not want you to misunderstand by what Paul means with the word “glory.”  The glory he is referring to is a glory outside of ourselves, and it is in light of that glory that our present sufferings dim and lose their edge.  According to verse 19, it is a glory only available to the sons of God.  The sons of God are the children of God.  Who is the child of God?  The child of God is the person who received the “abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” of Jesus Christ by trusting that his death for your sins was enough just as Paul described three chapters earlier in Romans: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (see Rom. 5:18–21)

In Romans 8:32, Paul elaborated on what he meant in verse 18, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The “all things” is the “glory that is to be revealed to us.”  It is this glory that Paul focused on in the midst of his “present day” sufferings.  Do not miss what he is saying here!  Just because you are a child of God, does not exempt you from “present day sufferings!”  Present day sufferings may include countless beatings, 39 lashes, canning, stoning, shipwrecks, and all sorts of dangers.  Present day suffering may also include divorce, a wayward child, the loss of a job, disease, and even death.

Your present-day sufferings may be the consequence of your sins, it may be the discipline of your heavenly Father, or it may be both (see Micah 7:8-9; Heb. 12:3-17).  Whatever form your suffering may come in, there is purpose and design behind it, or as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16–18).  Oh, how we need a right theology of suffering! 

The teaching that financial blessing, physical well-being, and easy living is always the will of God for your life is called the prosperity gospel, and it is an abomination (see 1 Tim. 6:6-10)!  God’s will for your life is not a suffering-free life because to follow Jesus requires a cross-bearing life where one finds his or her identity in the One who suffered and warned: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; see also Luke 14:26-33). 

Your present-day suffering does not necessarily mean that God is displeased with you, what it absolutely means is that he is as work in your life.  Listen to how Hebrews 12 explains the purpose behind the suffering a group of Christians were experiencing: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons….  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:7–8, 11).

It is a Good God Who Will Reveal the Glory to Us

Martin Lloyd-Jones, who himself died of throat cancer after nearly thirty years of faithful service as the lead pastor of Westminster Chapel in London.  His sermons and writings have had a profound impact upon my life and theology as your pastor.  He said of the glory the apostle Paul wrote of: “The great reality is the glory that is coming.… Hold on to this idea, that we do not really belong to this present age, that ‘our citizenship is in heaven.’ This present world is passing, transient, temporary. ‘The world to come’ is the real, the permanent world. That is the one that has substance and which will endure forever.”[3]  When he learned that his cancer would not improve, he suspended further treatment and asked his family not to pray for healing, and to clear any confusion as to why he did not want them to pray for healing, he said, “Do not hold me back from the glory.”  The cancer eventually robbed him of any ability to speak, his doctor said to him, “It grieves me to see you sitting here ‘weary and worn and sad.’” To which Martyn Lloyd-Jones replied: “Not sad!”. . .”Not sad!” and pointed to 2 Corinthians 4:16-19, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.

What is the glory that is to be revealed to us that filled a cancer-ridden Martyn Lloyd-Jones with joy?  It is the glory all of creation, “waits with eager longing…” and the children of God, “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:19-23).  You see the gospel is not only the forgiveness of sins made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but the reversal of the curse of sin and the complete redemption of all creation. 

The glory that is to be revealed to us is the one the apostle Peter wrote about to encourage suffering Christians, that Jesus saved them to give them: “…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (see 1 Peter 1:3–5).  The glory that a good God will not only reveal to us but bless us with is the one the apostle John described for us in Revelation 21,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:1–5)

This my dear brothers and sisters is what Paul meant when continued in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Experiencing suffering in this present time does not mean that we have to understand it, like it, or want to experience it.  What we need to remind ourselves of is that there is a good God who loves his children and will turn our suffering around into something beautiful.  Evelyn Underhill wisely said, “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshiped.”

The author of Hebrews defined faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  What is it that will keep your faith from being swallowed up by your grief?  The trust in a God whose love and goodness are infinitely greater than the pain of the, “…sufferings of this present time.”  This is the unseen hope that we must wait for with patience, knowing that suffering has a shelf-life and God promises that he will wipe away the tears that stain our eyes.  This is why we can sing songs like, “You’ve Already Won”

There’s peace that outlasts darkness
Hope that’s in the blood
There’s future grace that’s mine today
That Jesus Christ has won
So I can face tomorrow
For tomorrow’s in Your hands
All I need, you will provide
Just like you always have

I’m fighting a battle
You’ve already won
No matter what comes my way
I will overcome
Don’t know what you’re doing
But I know what you’ve done, thank you, God
I’m fighting a battle
You’ve already won

I know how the story ends
We will be with you again, you’re the one who saves
You’re my Savior, my defense, so we don’t have to be afraid
No more fear in life or death

[1] Stacey L. Nash. “Motherhood and Depression: How Depression Looks When You’re a Mom” (PsychCentral; September 20, 2022).

[2] Timothy Keller. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (New York, NY: Penguin Group; 2013); p. 3.

[3] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: The Reign of Grace (Vol. 2, p. 868). Baker Book House.