Life is full of little bugging questions. Did you even wonder why the word phonetically is not spelled like it sounds? Did you ever wonder how they make Teflon stick to the pan when nothing sticks to Teflon? Or why in the world would they put braille on the keypad of a drive-up ATM? Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway? Why do we ship items on a ship and call them cargo, and ship items on the road and call them a shipment? My favorite one was found on the list of side effects for a particular drug, “may cause constipation or diarrhea.” How’s that even possible?
Life is full of contradictions and conundrums. We tell people to “act naturally” or we refer to a “deafening silence.” We even throw our garbage in a place called a “sanitary landfill.” I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked to sign the “original copy.”
We don’t give much thought to these phrases because they are an accepted part of our language and culture. But those who do not speak our language must surely be confused by the art of oxymoron. It is especially funny to watch children as they learn to use figures of speech and colloquialisms. You never really know what you’re going to get.
As Christians, we exist in a state of oxymoron. James reminds us to “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds.” In Acts 5, after being tortured in such a way that makes waterboarding look like a splash in a kiddie pool, Peter and John walk away rejoicing that they “had been counted worthy of suffering reproach for the name of Christ.” Jesus tells us that the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.” He also says that whoever wishes to save their life must first lose their life!
The beautiful thing about this is that these are not contradictory statements, rather they are the result of walking with Jesus and living a cross-centered life. It only makes sense to those who are walking that pathway.
Paul gives us yet another example of this cross-centered life in Philippians 2:19-30. He first commends Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians as men worth following. They were godly men who exemplified the cross-centered life. In fact, while completing his mission, Epaphroditus nearly died from some unknown illness. As Paul retold this story, he said that if Epaphroditus had died, he would have had “one grief on top of another.” Each of us certainly understands this emotion. We would all grieve the death of a friend. It would only be compounded by being in prison at the time.
Therein lies the glory of this whole notion. Remember the big idea behind Paul’s letter to the Philippians, to rejoice. Only the Christian understands what it means to rejoice in the shadow of grief. Paul tells the Thessalonians to beware of grieving as those who have no hope. True joy is not the emotion of sugar-coating. It doesn’t alleviate pain or grief or sorrow; it coexists with those painful emotions. It never minimizes their reality, it only tempers their sting. It is for this reason that Paul can know the great sorrow of being in jail, of helplessly watching a good friend suffer and face death, and face the unending difficulty of hearing the needs and problems faced by all of his churches, and still remind us to “rejoice, again I say rejoice.”
Whatever you are facing today, no matter how big or how dark it may be, know that by God’s good grace, joy can always be found in the shadow of your crisis or your grief. The psalmist said it well in Psalm 30:5, “…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Again I say rejoice!