Psalm 16:4 says, “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows.” We all want to avoid the multiplication of sorrows. For sorrows to multiply is dangerous because “by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13), and a broken spirit is far worse than even a debilitating physical ailment. “A person’s spirit will endure sickness; but a broken spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14). But multiplied sorrows will inevitably come to us if we bank our hope on something else besides the God of the Bible and what he has promised in Scripture. For example, banking our hope on achieving an award, or receiving the coveted promotion, or even on accomplishing a laudable task is idolatry. Having such things as the ultimate ground for our hope will bring multiplied sorrows.
This happens in several ways. For one thing, not everyone can attain the goal upon which he has set his heart; and the failure to realize life’s dream can bring about the most acute sorrow. Not all of us can be promoted in the companies where we are employed, and the disappointment in the hearts of those who are passed over can be devastating. We can suffer greatly from realizing that someone else was regarded as better qualified. When we set our hope on the more challenging responsibilities and higher pay of a promotion, only to have it dashed to the ground, then sorrows will surely multiply.
But setting our hope on what God has promised carries no risk of not being realized. “The same Lord … is rich toward all who call on him” (Romans 12:12). Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The blessings God promises to give are not limited so that only a few—the strong, the talented, the privileged—can enjoy them. Rather, God takes special delight in blessing poor, slow and ordinary people, because they are more disposed to look outside themselves for help and to glorify God for what he promises to do for them.
Another reason why sorrows will multiply for those who do not seek the Lord, but some earthly goal instead, is that none of these goals are suited to satisfy the longings of the human heart. Pascal spoke of the human heart as being “the infinite abyss [which] can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object … only by God himself.” Augustine observed that men are restless until they find their rest in God. So if even those relative few who do achieve the world’s coveted goals have only a feeling of restlessness to show for all their efforts, then sorrow indeed becomes acute.
But abounding joy, not multiplied sorrow, comes to those who have fellowship with God as they bank their hopes just on what he has promised. Paul counted all other gains but garbage in comparison to the exceeding excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8). Jesus Christ is the express image of God himself. And as we read the gospels, we sense what kind of person Jesus was. So it is not difficult to understand why having fellowship with this person, so full of compassion and integrity, and having such power and authority over all sinister forces, would bring to the soul the rest and peace it craves.
A third reason why sorrows multiply when we set our affection on something other than God, is that seeking after one thing in life will necessarily mean diverting our energy and concern away from other important aspects of life, for example: working so hard to excel in a vocation that we suffer a breakdown in our health or our marriage flounders. Sorrows will surely multiply when such important aspects of life are ignored because of an obsession to attain some one thing.
But fellowship with the risen Christ brings a sense of peace and rest, a release, so that one is able to sit back and take stock of the whole of life’s situation. Fellowship with Christ means working diligently but without that sense of anxiety that keeps us fixated on a single goal. Fellowship with God frees us so that we are able to keep on top of all of life’s important aspects, and so we avoid the multiplied sorrows that neglect of even one of these aspects will most surely bring. Multiplied sorrows will be avoided only when we come to a deep-seated commitment to the proposition that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Timothy 6:6). But if we seek after other goals, or if we seek God for some ulterior reason, then we are idolaters, hastening after another god; and multiplied sorrows will be all that come from our efforts.
Daniel P. Fuller