Passion aug2010webThe distance between joy and sorrow is razor thin. He had come to help me celebrate my wedding. He and his wife were old friends. I had conducted their wedding. Their maid was away and the babysitter was not available and they had three young children. But they had come all the way anyway, from KL to Singapore with the two older ones. They were good friends.

The wedding had been a joyous affair with the kind of joy possible only when one is surrounded by dear friends. The next evening his mother was killed in a car accident. A text message gave me the news. I was stunned. And was reminded afresh that the distance between joy and sorrow is razor thin.

This was not a new lesson. Bernice (the classy lady now my wife) and I had lost our first spouses to cancer. I had gone through a divorce as well. We were well acquainted with the sorrows of a fallen world. But a joyous wedding had also reminded us that there was much joy in life too.

Still there is no escaping the reality that joy and sorrow, life and death, laughter and tears, are all part of the tapestry of life this side of heaven. Which is why I really appreciated the sermon I heard last Sunday.

The speaker, I’Ching Thomas of RZIM, had reminded us that the gospel is not just about ideas and concepts. It is rooted in history. It looks back to the historical reality of the resurrection. And it looks forward to the new heaven and the new earth. In the words of John:

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ ” [Revelation 21:1-5 TNIV]

I’Ching reminded us that our gospel had often been too reductionistic, reduced to four basic facts, a promise of some two dimensional new life here on earth, and hardly a mention of the new heavens and the new earth yet to come, with its robust picture of a completed shalom, when there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

It doesn’t help that a relatively wealthy middle class church finds its heart fairly anchored in this life and doesn’t feel the need to reflect seriously about the final outcome of history and the contours of the eschaton. Thus we find ourselves poorly armed to face the tragedies of life that come to all of us whatever our stations in life.

One of the things we need to know as we face the joys and sorrows of this life is that it will not always be so. There will come a time when there will be no more sorrow. Sorrow’s days are numbered.

While she is with us, sorrow can still cut like a knife and stab you deep in the heart. Indeed some of sorrow’s wounds may be with us till the new heavens and the new earths. But it is in the knowing that there will be a day when sorrow will be no more that gives us the strength to carry on.

There is further encouragement as well. While sorrow and joy may coexist in this life, the hand of the Divine Author has often transformed sorrow into a womb for joy. His template and master stroke was the Cross. Out of deep sorrow and death came life and joy.

I met my bride Bernice at one of the lowest points of my life. My father lay dying in Penang. My two boys were facing major government examinations in Kuala Lumpur. And I had to take a workshop at a Leadership Conference in Singapore. It was an impossible time.

I had decided to publish my second book in Singapore. A common friend had introduced me to Armour Publishing and I met the publisher, Bernice, at the Leadership Conference. We discovered that we both liked mystery novels. A working relationship became friendship. And friendship became the foundation for love and marriage. But I had met Bernice at one of the lowest points of my life. The distance between joy and sorrow is razor thin.

In the face of the sorrows of life, we find strength in the hope of the new heavens and the new earth. We also find hope in the mystery of a God that brings joy out of sorrow. And we find encouragement from the friends that walk with us on the way.

I will look for a time to be with my friend as soon as I get home. Losing a parent is a deep loss under any circumstance. And I am profoundly grateful that by the grace of God I now have a very special friend by my side. Together we will all journey on till the day when sorrow will be no more.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan