Question: "What does the Bible say about sadness?"
Answer: The Bible has many examples of sadness as the result of the fall and applications on how we may glorify God through our sadness. Sadness is either the direct or indirect result of sin, and, since we live in a fallen world, sin is a normal part of life (Psalm 90:10). The psalms are filled with David’s pouring out to God the sadness of his heart. Like David, we often feel that God has abandoned us in our times of sadness caused by those who reject and oppose us. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:2). But God is always faithful and, as David concludes, our trust in God is never unfounded. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me (Psalm 13:5-6).
In Psalm 16, David rejoices in his lot as a follower of the one, true God, including a “delightful inheritance” (v. 6), and gladness, rejoicing and security (v. 9), while those who reject Him and follow other gods will find an increase of sorrows (v. 3). But David also endured an increase of sorrow when he found himself outside of God’s blessings because of sin. “For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away” (Psalm 31:10). But in the very next psalm, David rejoices in the mercy of God who forgives those who come to Him in repentance. David’s sorrow turns to multiplied blessing: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). In verse 10, David sums up the matter of sadness and sorrow due to sin: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.”
The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-24 also shows us how we are to deal with sin-caused sadness. The characteristics of repentance are conviction of sin, confession of sin to God and others affected by the sin, desire and attempt to make restitution, turning from the sinful ways and pursuing godliness. Our sin should lead to godly sorrow which quickly turns into repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Not all sadness is caused by sin we commit, of course. Sometimes it’s just living in a sin-cursed world among fallen creatures. Job was one who experienced great sorrow and sadness, through no fault of his own. His wealth and ten children were all taken from him at one time, leaving him sitting on an ash heap covered in boils and sores (Job 1–3). To add to his misery, his three “friends” came to comfort him by accusing him of sinning against God. Why else, they reasoned, would a man find himself in such circumstances? But as God revealed to Job and his friends, sometimes God causes or allows circumstances that cause sorrow and sadness in our lives for His holy purposes. And sometimes, too, God doesn’t even explain His reasons to us (Job 38–42).
The psalmist tells us, “As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). If God’s ways are “perfect,” then we can trust that whatever He does—and whatever He allows—is also perfect. This may not seem possible to us, but our minds are not God’s mind. It is true that we can’t expect to understand His mind perfectly, as He reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes God’s perfect will includes sadness and sorrow for His children. But we can rejoice in that He never tests us beyond our ability to bear it and always provides the way out from under the burden of sorrow we bear temporarily (1 Corinthians 10:13).
No greater suffering has ever been experienced than that of Jesus, a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). His life was one continued series of sorrows, from the cradle to the cross. In His infancy His life was in danger from Herod, and his parents had to take Him and flee into Egypt (Matthew 2:19-20). His entire ministry was characterized by the sorrow He felt from the hardness and unbelief of men's hearts, from the opposition of the religious leaders, and even from the fickleness of His own disciples, not to mention from the temptations of Satan. The night before His crucifixion, He was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death” as He contemplated the coming wrath and justice of God which would fall upon Him as He died for His people. So great was His agony that His sweat was as great drops of blood (Matthew 26:38). Of course the greatest sorrow of His life was when on the cross His Father hid His face from the Son, causing Jesus to cry out in agony, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Surely no sadness experienced by any of us compares with that of the Savior.
But just as Jesus was restored to the right hand of His Father after enduring sorrow, so can we be assured that through hardships and times of sadness, God uses adversity to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 12:10). While life among sinful humanity in this world will never be perfect, we know that God is faithful and that when Christ returns, sorrow will be replaced with rejoicing (Isaiah 35:10). But in the meantime, we use our sorrow to glorify God (1 Peter 1:6-7) and rest in the Lord God Almighty’s grace and peace.