Proverbs 14:13 ESV
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.
The Bible can be a real downer. Sin, judgement, taxes… they’re all unpleasant things to confront. This verse is, honestly, among those unpleasant topics. As will become clear with an understanding of its context, though, this warning is vital to eternal life, to understanding the way of this world and of the next. We cannot simply assume that what is happening now will continue to happen forevermore, that how we feel now will persist into the future unchanged, that our present happiness is eternal. Indeed, we can safely assume, on this earth, that unless that happiness is derived wholly from God, it is not eternal, for its source is not eternal.
The cluster of verses this proverb lies in the midst of is concerned with the state of the heart and the results thereof; the preceding verse in particular provides context. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” it states, and this, along with the next verse, is the key to understanding today’s teaching. Because man’s heart is broken, liable to give false signals through a combination of bad information, ignorance, and sin’s influence on its use of that information, because man’s heart often tells him to do things which he ought not do, for the sake of his soul and his risk-reward ratio alike, because man is so, he often laughs when he is walking towards destruction; he often rejoices when he steps off a cliff.
We can see this most easily, I think, in looking at the world around us. Are not the evil men of the world rejoicing continually? Even the whining, moaning, and complaining the world propagates seems so often to be an exercise in self-puffery, in making the whiner feel better by virtue of being a ‘victim’. Movie stars, politicians, media personalities, and popular pastors (the ones who post black squares and get consoling or approving pats on the back when they engage with the culture), they’re all, so far as we see, living the high life, profaning God’s world and blaspheming His name on the regular. Those two things, though, don’t fit.
The man who hates God, the blasphemer and the liar and the fool, all are doomed, save God takes mercy on them, to bring them to repentance and not damnation. Save this single refuge (which all unregenerate men ultimately despise), he will have grief. Indeed, according to this verse and to other parts of Scripture (Rom. 1:19-23), this damnation’s foretaste is already among us, poisoning the laughter of the wicked with an ache which cannot be soothed, a worm that does not cease biting. We can see this particularly in the more seasoned politicians and movie stars of recent years; how many of them have committed suicide? Do people like Hillary Clinton strike you as full of peace and joy?
This poison of Godlessness is widespread in modernity. In history, of course, this darkness is remarkable only for its technological efficiency; we see it as strange only by contrast with the light which Christianity had spread across the world, the light which even now grows brighter for the darkness about it (Is. 58:8). Nevertheless, the darkness is real. Across the world, we have forsaken Him. We have chosen easy pleasures, easy delights. We have tried them, found them lacking, and instead of seeking the only One who can soothe the ache in our souls, we, as a world and as individual peoples, have turned to yet more empty pleasures, seeking in increased depravity numbness to the truth (Rom. 1:19-32). This search for something to replace God lies behind the modern (and historical) search for comfort in ever stronger drugs and ever more depraved sex acts and ever more violative ideologies, in pursuing Messianic political cults and casting all others as monsters too dark for redemption.
This way is a way which leads only to grief, even for those who truly know Him. On one hand, the redeemed of God need not fear that their salvation will be torn from them (Rom. 8:29-30); He is not a God who loses that which He ransomed from His judgement by His blood. On the other, we are called to take dominion over this world (Gen. 1:26), to establish societies which honor Him (Rom. 13:1-7), to show to the world His goodness, so that those He calls may here and those who He does not may, by their rejection of Him, increase His glory. The current turpitude of the world may not deter us from this path, from the suffering and evil it would inflict upon itself, upon us, and upon our children. God has given us, as a nation, only one way forward: repentance. Like Israel, we must repent, must turn to Him, and must love His law (Ezra 10:1-17). This truth holds yet more strongly for each man. We are called to repent of our sins and cast ourselves in faith upon His mercy, that through our faith He might save us. Thus has He ordained that our joy will not end in grief, that our ache will be healed, that our final estate will be of joy and rejoicing without end (Is. 56:5).
To quote St. Andrew of Crete’s great poem,
“Christian, dost thou hear them,
How they speak thee fair?,
‘Always fast and vigil?
Always watch and prayer?’
Christian, answer boldly,
‘While I breathe I pray.’
Peace shall follow battle,
Night shall end in day.
‘Well I know thy trouble,
O my servant true:
Thou art very weary;
I was weary too.
But that toil shall make thee
Some day all Mine Own,
And the end of sorrow
Shall be near My throne.'”
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.