Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.
The Church’s One Foundation
Maybe you’re used to crying at church, but I’m not. I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve been moved to tears. Before we get sidetracked, this is not an article about whether it’s spiritual or not to sob during congregational song. This is a personal reflection on a few hymn lyrics that happened to strike me a few Sundays ago.
Aside from the usual teenage heartbreak sagas, I haven’t experienced suffering. Sure, there have been days when I am sad and lack motivation, but I’ve never been crushed by the burden of my pain. I can think back on moments that hurt, but that’s just it, I have to think back to them. They are a thing of the past. Unbearable suffering is not a part of my day to day existence. Usually I’m pretty happy because life is good. There are moments of sadness but they come and go. I don’t know diddly squat about enduring ongoing suffering.
When I come across lyrics that describe the toil and tribulation that God’s people face, I sing them as though they merely describe my daily inconveniences. Perhaps I am thinking of my struggle to get to church on time (10:30am is pretty early when you’ve been up until 2am). Maybe I am thinking about how annoying it is when someone cancels on lunch plans. Sometimes it’s the tension of knowing that while I’m explaining my opinion, the person I’m speaking to doesn’t understand my Christian perspective.
While all of those things are annoying, for me they are merely bindis in the grass or mosquito bites that fade. There is suffering that cuts deeper and is much more painful than those things. As I get to know people’s stories, I am seeing what it is to suffer. I am meeting people who have problems with no quick fixes, some with no solutions at all. I spill tears alongside people as they face days so dark the light of Christ barely shines through.
I am starting to see what trials and tribulations look like for fellow members of the body of Christ. Here is the worst part. There is nothing I can do to help or make things better, even though I so badly want to tell people that it’s all going to be okay. All I can do is make sure they are not alone as they persevere daily.
We live in a world where everything is tainted by sin. The longer I live here the clearer this truth becomes. Everything and everyone is affected by sin and struggle. As hard as we try to run from the discomfort of suffering and pain, we can never run fast enough to escape it.
That’s why Jesus’ words are so beautiful in Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
As Christians, we understand that this state of suffering is not the way the world was created. Sin has trashed everything God made good. Even the brightest moments we experience are not immune to sin’s touch. But there is comfort to come for those who mourn, and Christ is the comforter. The only way to truly remove suffering is to remove the cause of it, the sin that has wrecked the world. When Christ was nailed to the cross, sin was nailed there with him.
When our church started ‘The Church’s One Foundation‘, I saw lyrics I had sung for years in a new light. There is desperation and suffering, but those who know Christ have hope. This hope in Christ is what they cling to, because it is all they have and all they need in the darkest days. They are waiting so desperately for their Comforter to come and make them new. And because this hymn is about the church, it is fair to say that we are all waiting for that day. The more I understand the pain of others and the sin of this world, the more I too cling to the hope of Christ returning for his bride. The more I see the struggles of my brothers and sisters in Christ, the more I truly grasp how glorious this rest will be. This brings tears to my eyes. Tears of sorrow for those fighting every day to glorify God, despite their circumstances. And tears of joy, because one day the church will enter eternal rest where every tear will be wiped from weary eyes.
Here is the modern arrangement of this hymn that we sing at our church by Enfield: