Over the last decade and a half a gospel-centered wave has washed over evangelical Christianity. Gospel-centered books were published. Gospel-centered blogs were posted. Gospel-centered churches were planted. And while the wave seems to be receding, the surge has left its mark. Many of us have been trained (changing metaphors) to see the rays of gospel light illuminating every square inch of the landscape of our lives—and we’re better off for it.
But I have a hunch that the gospel we so often place at the center of our lives is itself off-kilter. It isn’t a false gospel—it wholeheartedly holds to salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God—but it lacks balance that leads to a lack of gracious benefits for those who believe. The gospel as so many understand it is all happiness and cheer. To follow Christ is to fix a permanent smile on your face, whether or not your heart and soul match the expression. We have a gospel-centered aversion to sadness.
What we need is a grief-centered Gospel.
I admit, I’m being a bit provocative in what I’m writing. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS. Jesus died so that I might live eternally in God’s perfect presence. How in the world could I ever find something to be sad about, let alone put GRIEF at the center of it all?
But as the old saying goes, “you can’t have good news without bad news.” The grief that must find its way to the center of the gospel we believe doesn’t supplant the joy and hope that is already there. Instead, grief sits next to joy and complements it.
We grieve over our sins. Our sins that should lead to our destruction. Our sins that harm and destroy others. Our sins that caused terrible suffering on the one and only innocent man to ever live. And as our grief reaches lower and lower, our joy in salvation grows higher and higher. Those who are forgiven greatly rejoice greatly (Luke 7:36–50).
But sin hasn’t only affected our eternal destinations. Sin has affected our lives here and now. We grieve over our sins, but we also grieve over a sin-cursed creation that is itself eagerly awaiting renewal at Christ’s return (Romans 8:19–22).
When we don’t make room for grief in our gospel-centered lives, we deny the truth about life under the sun. There is pain here. There is suffering here. There is loss and anguished longing here. When we pretend there isn’t, we make the gospel we believe unbelievable. For those who know all too well the pain of fallen life, good news with no room for grief is absurd—grief is all too real.
Our comfort in the gospel is not that God will never permit storms to shake our lives. It isn’t even that God may let storms come, but will pull us out before they get too rough. Our comfort in the gospel is that God is with us in the storm. With lightning flashing, thunder crashing, and winds howling, God is with us. As the rain runs down your face and the flood waters rise, he is there.
And we can be absolutely sure God is with us in every trial because he went before us to the cross.
Therefore, we have hope and joy, not in the absence of sorrows, but shining more brightly and beautifully because of them. Just like light shines more clearly in the dark, the light of God’s love and mercy shines brighter against the dark backdrop of our sadness and grief in this fallen world.
The gospel doesn’t sweep our sadness under the rug. On the contrary, the gospel warns us to expect sorrow, to expect grief, but to be confident that we are safe in the arms of the Almighty, even as we weep and tremble with heartache.
My sincere desire is that everyone who reads this would live a joyful, gospel-centered life. Just make sure you’ve left room for grief at the center of that gospel.