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“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows my sorrow.” We all know the song—or at least that much of it—and we all know the feeling.
Oh, it’s true that the losses, disappointments, failures, and wrongs that tend to lead to bitterness are “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13), but at the same time, each person’s experience is unique. Our hearts tell us no one understands or can understand.
From there, it’s a small step downward to the attitude that no one cares. Sometimes it may even be true.
Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. (ESV, Psalm 142:4)
For many, the pain of grief, disappointment, regret, or resentment brings a tendency toward increasing self-absorption and withdrawal. And that isolation both feeds on and fuels increasing—and increasingly self-destructive and disobedient—bitterness.
Jonah sits atop his hill and sulks alone. Elijah despairs and prays for death under his juniper tree alone. Job, in the company of judgmental friends, is only made more alone.
But in Scripture we also find those who don’t quite fit the pattern of bitterness-driven, self-defeating isolation. And we find some who reject the pattern completely.
A Better Way
Naomi’s story is a thing of beauty. In her bitterness, Naomi (a.k.a, Mara; Ruth 1:20) tries to be alone (Ruth 1:8-14). But she is already cared for more than she knows.
… but Ruth clung to her. 15 And [Naomi] said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:14-17)
And that’s the end of the discussion. Naomi must have been as stunned by those words as we are. Who can turn down that kind of commitment? Here, Ruth models God’s hesed (חֶ֫סֶד), though the word does not appear in the context. There’s no adequate English equivalent, but hesed is loyal, steadfast—perhaps stubborn and “irrational”—love (Gen. 24:12, 39:21; Ex 15:13, 34:7, Ps 21:7, Ezr 3:11, and so many more).
As a human example of the faithful hesed of God, Ruth points the way to a familiar but easily-neglected response to the lonely nature of bitterness. David makes this response crystal clear.
Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. 5 I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” 6 Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! (Psalm 142:4–6a)
David and Asaph (see Psalm 73, 74) remind us that though we are sometimes alone in our struggle on the human, horizontal dimension—we’re never alone on the divine, vertical dimension.
Hezekiah’s case is potent on this point as well.
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’ ” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:1–3)
Hezekiah is irrationally and selfishly human here, yet deeply humble and believing at the same time. Irrationally, he greets the news of his impending death as though nobody ever had to die before—and it’s completely unfair that it has to happen to him! Bitterly, he turns away from human comfort, preferring the company of “the wall.” Yet, in faith, he seeks the One he knows has perfect understanding, sufficient power, and a heart of unfathomable mercy.
Should we conclude from the examples of David, Asaph, Hezekiah and others, that our struggles with disappointment, loss, failure, and wrongdoing by others should be shared with God alone? Should we conclude that our fellow human beings, with their limited understanding, limited interest, and always-questionable loyalty should be shunned in favor of seeking only God?
It’s easy to think that way. On several levels, it feels right. But it’s wrong.
God leads Elijah into a new relationship with a faithful trainee, Elisha (1 Kings 19:16). God surrounds Job with family and friends (Job 42:11). He gives Naomi Ruth, and gives Ruth Boaz.
It sounds wrong to say that “God is not enough,” because, in a sense, that is wrong. But there is no idolatry in recognizing that His sufficiency takes the form of means He has ordained. God is enough, but He gives us food to eat, water to drink, clothes to wear, houses to live in.
And He gives us people to share our lives—and woes—with.
A servant of no less stature than the apostle Paul shows us how this works:
For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2 Cor. 7:5–7)
Why else do we have passages such as these?
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom. 12:15)
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:26)
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)
The Final Argument
Our Savior’s example is the final argument on this question. While enjoying perfect unity and fellowship with Father, what does He do in the agonizing hours leading up to the cross? I quote the passage at length here, with portions highlighted.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matt. 26:36–46)
Jesus seeks both the Father and the support of His companions. Yes, our fellow humans—believers though they may be—will fail to support us sometimes. They may fail us when we need them most. It’s okay. The flesh is weak, and we’ve all done our share of failing others when they needed us. We should seek them out and lean on them anyway.
Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in small-town western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. In his full time job, he is Information Coordinator for a law-enforcement digital library service.