When Jesus reveals to His disciples that He is leaving, Scripture tells us of them that “sorrow has filled their heart.” This sorrow, however, is this extreme grief leading to despondency, which rather than godly mourning is instead a sinful passion. Chrysostom writes of this passion with the warning that “great is the tyranny of despondency.” It is this paralyzing sorrow that leads to sinful inaction. When all hope seems lost, when the world persecutes Christians, at times when God seems so distant, we must fight against this strong passion of despair, finding instead our comfort in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Consider that the disciples knew that Jesus was God, and God had just told them that He was leaving them. How often do we feel that exact feeling in our own lives? How often do we feel as though God was here and suddenly left? And yet, when the disciples felt that way, He assured them that if He didn’t leave them, then the Holy Spirit would not come. And it is the Holy Spirit who brings us this comfort.
Many times in our lives, something will go wrong. And when that happens, most often, our first reaction to it is that God has left us. Sometimes we feel as though He has gone away, or we have grown distant from Him. We have an option, however, as to whether we will sink into this despondency and allow the distance to grow, or find our comfort in the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Lord will neither leave us nor forsake us. It is at the very moment where we feel that way that we must decide whether we will leave and forsake Him, or seek after Him instead. It is at that very moment when our faith is being tested that we must rise up in faith, and seek after Him. And that requires swallowing our pride, falling on our face before the Lord, saying “Lord, I can’t do this on my own, please come and help me.” We so often believe and are taught that God is chasing us, as though He needs us. But, the reality of it, is that the opposite is true. We need God. Thus, if our response to His seeming distance is apathy, then it is so easy for us to turn away from Him, to be lost in this “tyranny of despondency.” However, if we respond in faith, finding our comfort in the Holy Spirit, and continue to seek after Him, then we will be freed from this bond.
And to what end does the Spirit come? “To convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment,” the Scripture tells us. When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, the greatest of which is it’s consummate denial of Christ; in righteousness, which it fails to accept from Jesus; and in judgment, for all who reject Christ are the children of Satan and will receive the same punishment as their father. Scripture tells us of the world, “you are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father, you will do.” (John 8:44-45).
Lastly, Jesus both begins and ends this chapter with multiple warnings of the trials which are to come. It is no consequence that He begins by speaking of the trials to come, warns against the passion of despondency, and then returns to the topic of trials. He wants us to recognize that no matter how bad things may seem, He is always there, and we can always look to the Spirit for comfort. He speaks of being put out of the synagogues, of being persecuted, of being rejected by the world. He speaks of times when people will execute Christians, claiming to do so in God’s name even. He warns of all of these things that we, as His children, will have to endure. And yet, He reminds us to be of good cheer, not to fear any of these things, for He has overcome the world. No matter what our circumstances may be, He is master over all. And while things in this life may seem to be overwhelming, if we constantly turn to Him for comfort and mercy, there is nothing that we can not overcome, never allowing the circumstances of this world to get the better of us.
See, when life is great, we must remember to thank the Lord, for “every great and perfect gift is from above.” However, when things aren’t “going great,” we must also remember to thank Him for these very trials that He allows for the purpose of strengthening our faith. No matter our circumstances, we must always turn to Him, seeking our strength, our refuge, our guidance, and our comfort in Him.
The disciples were disheartened because He had told them that He was leaving them, and then rebuked them for doubting the very plan that He had in store for them. May we not do the same. He allows the good and the bad to happen for a purpose, and though that purpose may not always be clear to us, we must always trust in Him, and turn to Him for comfort and guidance through whatever situation we are in.
Christ is in our midst.