For the last month there has been quite a bit of hubbub along Spokane’s Monroe Street bridge. It seems that particular the bridge is one of the favorite suicide sites in the city. But a woman, after hearing about a similar situation in England, began posting notes along the railings of the bridge, trying to discourage people from jumping. The messages have been declaring things like, “You are not alone,” “People care about you,” “Suicide is not the answer” and so on. However, someone has been ripping down those signs, while this woman stubbornly keeps putting them back up. Some people have accused her of littering, while others have praised her.
Of course, not every discouraged or depressed person goes so far as to consider suicide. Multitudes just “grin and bear it” so to speak. But the fact is, there are great numbers of Americans who dislike their lives – even hate their lives. It is one of the reasons why this country is filled with bars and brothels, drug dens and rehab centers. Some of the denizens of these places, and millions of others, just keep smiling and laughing at the latest jokes, while their hearts are truly unhappy. Solomon describes much of our society when he says, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.” Not only is this true of the wicked sinful men, but it is also common among religious people and even Christians. WHY is that?
Before I try to answer, please note some background material from here in this verse. In his usual poetic manner Solomon gives us a pair of pairs. Here in this verse the pairs don’t contrast each other as is sometimes the case. This time they are parallels with some differences. The verse puts a “sorrowful heart” next to a “heavy heart” – and these make perfect sense. The other pair is a bit more interesting – “laughter” and “mirth.” The first Hebrew word speaks of “derisive” or “scornful laughter,” while the second refers to “joy” or “gladness.” This is just the opposite of what I would expect, understanding the statement only in English. Nevertheless, together they describe the entire genre of the modern “comedian.” There are truly funny jokes which make both the 6-year-old, and the 96-year-old, laugh. And then there is the late-night, off-colored, derision heaped upon celebrities and events. There is good humor, and there is evil humor. And Solomon reminds us that they both end in heaviness and sorrow.
But it’s not just humor and jokes which make people laugh or smile. We may smile at a beautiful sunset, or the joy of catching a big fish. We may laugh at the laughter of our children, or smile at the antics of a baby we’ve never seen before. There are all kinds of reasons to laugh in this world – but it is still worldly laughter.
Despite all which could make people happy why is there so much sorrow?
The text gives us a clue – “Even in laughter the HEART is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.” Laughter and mirth are superficial and temporary – they are external parts of our lives. Most of us learn when we are supposed to grin and when we are not. We can paste a smile on our face when it’s appropriate – as when we walk into a church service. We know we are supposed to put out our hand and smile when someone greets us. But that doesn’t mean we are happy to be in the House of God, or to be greeted by this particular person. Your heart is the true you, and IT may not smiling when the mouth is offering something appropriate.
Leaving the context of the lost world, Solomon’s words are also true of the Christian. There are thousands of professing Christians who are NOT joyful people. They may smile and even laugh, but they are neither happy nor joyful. The reason is because those Christians don’t live like saints. I don’t mean they aren’t as sanctified as they ought to be, although that may be true. But they don’t live the life which their heavenly citizenship makes available to them. Too many Christians, too many of US, have had our day-to-day priorities skewed by the world. So many Christians have bought into the secular standards and definitions of “happiness.” We laugh at the world’s jokes; we pattern our lives by the world’s barometer of success. And for so many people it is “success” which makes them happy.
For example, how do Christians, how do our children, value wealth? What is more important, serving the Lord according to His Word, or having a few extra dollars in the old wallet? Look at your life – are you as focused on serving the Saviour as on making money? Not a problem? Then are you as interested in the Lord as you are in your children, your garden, or your favorite hobby? Do you spend even half as much time in prayer, worship and serving God as you do in serving the world? Let’s say you aren’t interested in your bank balance? Well then, let’s change that to physical possessions – toys, tools, gizmos and new technology. Why do we have to have the latest and best? Isn’t because the world tells us over and over again, that our old technology isn’t up to their standard? What is going to make us sorrowful more quickly, poor financial health or poor spiritual health?
What about physical health? The world tells its citizens that anything less than perfect health means some sort of failure. We have little blue pills to fix this problem and purple pills to fix the other thing. If you aren’t as gorgeous as some celebrity of the same age, then you are a failure and should be sad. You need to spend the Lord’s tithe on creams, surgeries, and injections to make you beautiful. Forget about the fact that your body has an expiry date, and you will soon have a glorified body. You should be heart-broken because you can’t run the rat race of life as well as you could decades ago. But has anyone ever won the rat race? No one but rats ever have.
You can write this down, read and re-read it – When a Christian becomes discontent and discouraged with his life, it is due to sin. It might be that the Holy Spirit is convicting him of specific transgressions against the Lord. But in another light, it may be because that Christian is measuring his life against the standards of the world rather than the standard of God. Or putting it in yet another way, he is sorrowful because he is not the saint which God saved him to be.
The Christian has the potential to always be joyful and even happy.
It is possible when that Christian properly adjusts his heart and his eyes. “Set your affections – put your hearts – on thing above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and you life is hid with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:2 has applications going in several directions. As long as we believe we deserve a bigger paycheck, a larger house or a newer car, our smiles will soon be turned into sorrow and heaviness, because there is always more temptations to bigger and better. But when we live in the light of our soon departure to be with Christ, the dents in our car and our inability to eat out at a fancy restaurant every week will not be important. In chapter 23 Solomon says, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings, they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” Does that make you sad?
I know that it’s foolish to say, but Romans 8 is one of the greatest chapters in the Word of God. There may be three dozen invaluable doctrines expounded and glorified in that chapter. And they seem to flow effortlessly from one to another. Turn to Romans 8 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” What joy there is in the blessing of salvation. But notice that the joy is linked to not walking after the flesh and subsequently – not walking after the world. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Then Paul begins to get a bit personal in his application of the Lord’s great salvation. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death.” But tell us Paul, what happens when we set our affections on things above and not on carnal things. “But to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
Life and peace – the very things most of humanity yearns to possess. And how can these two things become ours? Not only does Paul tell us, but so does Christ – “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
If we seek the things of the world in order to be happy, to laugh and to be mirthful, then it is no wonder our hearts are sorrowful and heavy. God has created us as new creatures with hearts designed to be heavenly – not heavy. As long as we are looking in the wrong direction – as long as our hearts are pointed toward earth – our smiles will have to be fake – pasted on. But if our hearts are bright because of fellowship with our Saviour, the world will not matter very much. Our worldly circumstances will not be able to bring us down. The smiles and laughter will be real.