Can I be Happy and Sad?

By 07/04/2021From Nigel

as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:10

Can we be both happy and sad? Or even can I be happy whilst I am sad? This is confusing stuff!

If you search the internet for a definition of “schizophrenia” one site defines it as, “a situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities.” Another says “a state characterised by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.”

Given these definitions, there is a sense in which Christianity gives every appearance of being schizophrenic! There are in the Christian life, and in that of the apostle Paul in particular, situations or conditions or states of mind (I think that’s the best way to say it), that seem to those outside the church (and a few on the inside of the church as well) as being disparate or antagonistic or contradictory or incompatible.

So, if we meditate for a few moments on Paul’s description here in verse 10 there it is; “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Can we have it both ways? Sorrow and joy are incompatible, there is a huge gulf between poor and rich. What accounts for Paul’s odd perspective on life? Is he emotionally unstable, a man who’s lost touch with reality, or someone who has a deep and profound grasp on what is of ultimate value? I am convinced it is the latter.

Let’s say one thing first. If there is no life beyond the grave then Paul is mad! If this World is all there is, or ever will be, it is senseless to speak of joy in the midst of suffering or to regard oneself as wealthy in the face of poverty. The value system that accounts for Paul’s point of view is one shaped by a belief in the reality of eternity, a life everlasting in which never-ending good triumphs over evil, an existence in which the beauty and splendour of Jesus Christ provide ceaseless and ever-increasing satisfaction that goes beyond anything this life can offer.

Having said that Paul’s “sorrow” was very real. His anticipation of eternal joy did not excuse him from the hardships of life, but it did make them bearable. We misunderstand the apostle, and Christianity as a whole, if we believe the Bible is telling us to ignore pain or pretend that it is less than it is. Sorrow hurts and can hurt for a lifetime. If I may indulge myself and you for a moment. My brother died a few years back and it still hurts, I miss him so much.

Also, the source of his sorrow was multi-faceted. He felt “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Romans 9:2) regarding the state of the Jewish people. His often rocky relationship with the Corinthians was the source of “much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Then there was “the daily pressure” of his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28), not to mention the sadness he felt upon seeing Christ scorned and mocked, as well as his own sufferings from persecution. He had much to cause him sorrow.

Yet, we are told, he was “always rejoicing”! “Come on Paul, really!

There can only be two things to explain this. Firstly, he must have believed that even the worst of circumstances and the most oppressive of trials were subject to an overriding and gracious grace. Were it not for his belief that “all things work together for good” for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) he could not have rejoiced whilst living with sustained sorrow. It was not wishful thinking or mind over matter. The love he knew and felt from God overwhelmed him.

Secondly, there must have been a deep and abiding well of spiritual refreshment from which he regularly drew that provided his heart with incomparable and life-sustaining satisfaction, something so fascinating, enthralling, and captivating where no root of bitterness could thrive or disillusionment could raise their ugly heads. As we’ve just seen, it was the goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ himself (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He kept drawing upon this.

Paul laboured to make sure his heart was in the right place, he would delight in God but also he knew that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

This is huge for everyone, in that true joy is not dependent on pleasant circumstances. It is possible to rejoice in a way that is genuine and real and sincere whilst still enduring trials that in themselves have the potential to bring only misery and despair. It’s there for each believer, what an amazing resource. I’ve gone on a bit long on that first bit, may have to whiz through the rest.

Paul describes himself “as poor, yet making many rich.” What does he mean by this? Obviously both can’t be literal for Paul would never have thought of himself as increasing the financial wealth of the churches where he ministered. That would simply have never been a factor in his apostleship.

Paul probably meant that he was “poor”. In 1 Corinthians he wrote: “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labour, working with our own hands” (vs 11-12) an important reminder for all aspiring modern day apostles! Paul’s work as a tentmaker only provided him with a basic living at times, but his main aim was that he did not want people to think he was in ministry for the money (2 Corinthians 11:7-12).

Yet he has a view on riches and what makes one rich, and how one enriches another. This verb is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:5 where he describes the believers in that church as “in every way” “enriched in him [i.e., in Christ] in all speech and all knowledge” (see 2 Corinthians 9:11). Although Paul himself lacked earthly riches he delighted in imparting to others “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)

and the “surpassing worth of knowing” Christ Jesus as Lord (Philippians 3:8). He worked hard among the Colossians to make known “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Nothing could be more obvious than this: if Christ is not himself a treasure of incomparable worth, a person of incalculable value, a source of endless satisfaction, material hardship will only serve to embitter and harden your heart.

Finally, though I have nothing, said Paul, I possess everything!

We know Paul did not have much “stuff” and would never have used his apostleship to gain more “stuff.”

This is, as the commentators tell me, a rhetorical hyperbole, designed to highlight the infinitely superior blessings of Christ and the age to come. Although he owned little in terms of worldly goods, Paul considered himself wealthy when it came to things eternal and of infinite spiritual value.

[21] So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, [22] whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, [23] and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3:21-23

If we are able to take on board a thoroughly biblical World view, a perspective in which the values of eternity break into the present, we will always appear a bit schizophrenic to those who do not know Christ. Without him, sorrow trumps joy, and material gain becomes our only goal. With him, joy flourishes in the midst of all, even financial lack or physical pain.