At a time of global uncertainty, fear, and panic, we are brought back to the words of Jesus, who told his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). What follows is a meditation by Rev. Herman Hoeksema on that text, taken from the book Peace for the Troubled Heart.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”—John 14:1
The heart can become profoundly troubled.
Just as the deep sea, having been swept up by a howling storm, becomes restless, so that her usually calm surface heaves and groans, her waves, as high as houses, rolling and foaming, rising and dropping precipitously, finding no rest, so too the profoundly deep heart of man under the influences of the raging storms of life can be extremely agitated. The heart becomes so troubled that it can find no rest.
Man’s heart is the center of his life from a spiritual perspective.
Out of the heart are the issues of life.
Our thoughts and desires, inclinations and interests, understandings and conceptions, and wants and aspirations all have their source and spiritual root in the heart. As the heart is, so are its issues: our wants, our thoughts and desires, our inclinations, and our ideals and purposes. As the heart is, so is our life. The heart is who we really are.
The expression “to be troubled in heart,” therefore, penetrates so deeply and describes something so very dreadful.
It is not a minor disturbance occasioned by life’s superficial realities.
There are people who are very easily troubled.
By nature these are superficial persons who have never really been touched to the depths of their existence, whose hearts know no troubling, but who by the slightest, mildest opposition, or by the most insignificant twinge of pain and suffering, react with a show of strong emotions, cast themselves down in dust and ashes, pour forth a flood of tears, hang the harp in the willows, and leave the impression with others that their psychological resilience and strength is broken in many different ways. Just as shallow waters become suddenly tempestuous, so too are these persons easily troubled. Yet do not take them seriously. Their distress is not the troubling of the heart, but only a superficial mental, emotional distress. Their superficial emotions are distressed, but not the depths of life.
The troubling of the heart penetrates to the depths of one’s being, affecting even the desire to live.
It is not caused by the appearance of little clouds the size of a man’s hand on the horizon of our lives, but by the powerful storms of life that furiously rage over our heads, until there appears to be no possibility of deliverance by the hand of God or men. To be troubled of heart is something quite different from being merely sad of heart. The heart can be filled with pain and overwhelmed by sorrow without being troubled in the sense in which Jesus means it in the text. The disciples, to whom he first directed this comforting word, may indeed have been troubled. There are moments in the lives of God’s children in which it would be foolishness for one to urge them, "Let not your heart be saddened.” No, when the heart is troubled, we are crushed. We are broken and unable to function. We see neither any escape, nor any reason for or any wisdom in the way that we have to walk. We do not understand what God is doing. The way of God appears to be unjust. The mind has worn itself out trying to understand the way of God, but it was all fruitless. The mind stops thinking. The will finds no rest. There is no calm submission, no unity of our thought and will with that of the Almighty. The heart is troubled, full of unrest and turmoil. The scale of our lives never balances.
The heart is troubled.
So it was for the disciples when Jesus spoke these words.
Their hearts were troubled. They did not understand what was happening. They were not one with the way the savior chose to walk. Wherever they looked for understanding, the darkness of a deep abyss engulfed them.
Yet their hearts would be troubled even more. Deeper and still less understandable would be the way for them in the future that lay immediately before them.
And there were reasons.
It was not a minor, superficial distress that disturbed the feelings of these eleven men. No, furious storms were raging in that hour. There was darkness—such dreadful darkness that their souls were robbed of all understanding. No, they did not yet understand fully what was about to happen. They did not understand the character of the way, where it would go, or the depths through which it would lead. But everything indicated clearly that in the very near future they would lose the most precious possession they had; the Master would be taken from them. He had spoken to them about it repeatedly, but they did not understand him because they never wanted it to happen. In that very night they had seen the threatening signs of that inevitability. They saw it in the marvelous foot washing and the message that the savior gave through it; they saw it in the unmasking and expulsion of the betrayer who left in the depths of the night. They saw it in the institution of the Lord’s supper, the signs of which pointed to shed blood and a broken body.
Now they were on the path. Where were they going?
What would happen in this night?
They did not understand. All they knew was that their hearts were troubled, and would be even more troubled.
Soon the troubling would completely dominate them when they would see the Master delivered into the hands of sinners and they would see him suffer, scorned and trodden down underfoot, despised and spit upon. They would be troubled when presently they would see their Lord swallowed up in the terrifying death of the cross. Surely, their hearts were troubled. And they had reasons. Violent storms of life were raging. Apparently their faith was becoming vain. The object of their hope was being taken away from them and the longing of their souls denied!
Such was the experience of the disciples.
So too, although perhaps in a less serious measure, it is for God’s children today.
The way becomes sometimes very difficult for them. When only sadness upon sadness is one’s lot and only sufferings smother one’s soul without relief, it appears as if God destroys his own work, does not achieve his own purpose, does not fulfill his promise, denies his own faithfulness, rejects us, and allows his own cause to endure defeat.
Then our hearts are shaken to the very depths of their hidden recesses. Then peace disappears from our hearts, unrest rules, and torment of soul oppresses us.
Then the soul in all its powers is consumed with contemplation. And it is all fruitless.
Our hearts can become troubled.
Let not your heart be troubled.
Wonderful word of power! So much more powerful and with much more significance, because he who speaks has the right to speak.
If the subject is the storms of life that trouble our hearts, he may indeed speak to us.
It is far too easy for those who have not known the storms of life by experience to give words of encouragement to one who is almost drowning in the pool of life’s misery. It is far too easy for one who radiates health to encourage the sick in the way of submission and patience regarding the cross they must bear. It is far too easy for the wealthy to preach to the poor to be at peace with their lot. It is far too easy for those who know no misery and are not familiar with the agony of life, to sing,
At peace in the Lord!
As easily as such a word of comfort falls from the lips of one who has not known any grief, to that extent it is both superficial and comfortless. The wretched soul feels that the speaker does not understand what he says when he offers admonition and encouragement: "Let not your heart be troubled.”
His word has no significance.
It lacks depth.
It does not grip one’s heart.
Yet how different is this word of the savior! Was there ever one who had experienced misery as he did? Was there ever a way so deep, a path so dark, a suffering so extreme, that his path was not deeper, his way much darker, his suffering inexpressibly more horrible? Is he not the only one, who exactly for that reason can be our merciful high priest, who can have compassion upon us in our weaknesses because he was tempted in all points even as we are, yet without sin? No matter to what depths our path may take us in the future, most definitely the footprints of the Lord lead us onward!
No, still more.
Let not your heart be troubled. He spoke from a heart of love to his disciples to encourage them. But in what hour and in what circumstances did he attempt to comfort his disciples? Was it not the approaching final hour of which he had often spoken, the hour in which the powers of darkness would be let loose to crush him and apparently to triumph over him? Surely, in just a few hours his enemies would violently assault him and would spew forth the venom and of their hatred and malice in order to kill him. In just a few moments all the unrighteousness of all the brethren would be laid upon him, and the Christ would carry it. In a very short time the curse, rightly belonging to his people, would be his to carry. And he knew it. He knew the way before him. He knew the heavy, suffocating pressures that would press down upon his heart, and he knew what pains and agony would torment his body and soul. It was in that hour of thick darkness that his most fearful suffering was already beginning to fill him with dread, that hour in which he himself had need of comfort. In that hour he spoke lovingly to his disciples: "Let not your heart be troubled.”
It was so very amazing, because not only did he himself know the misery of suffering as no one else, and not only because in that fearful hour he entered his deepest sufferings, but especially because he spoke with the certainty, the calm and joyful confidence, of final victory!
When he said, "Let not your heart be troubled,” this was no empty, vain word, no hollow, insincere utterance, no mere groundless comfort. But it was his intent and purpose to assure his disciples and to cause them to live in the joy of faith in which he himself lived, so that there could be no reason whatsoever for them to be troubled in heart.
Surely he saw before him the deep way of his own suffering. Yet if he had seen only that suffering, his heart would also have been troubled, and it would have been no marvel that the hearts of his disciples would also have been troubled.
He saw, however, much more.
The author and finisher of our faith saw past the depths of sufferings and knew that all was well.
There was no reason to despair, no reason to hang the harp in the willows, even when God’s way appears to be so dark.
Let not your heart be troubled.
Be not troubled!
Be at peace—the peace that surpasses all understanding—when in the midst of raging storms and threatening hurricanes, in deep ways of suffering and in the darkest night.
But how? When, after having long pondered it, we cannot understand the way of the Lord and can see the way of the Most High only as being unjust, how will we obtain that peace of heart?
Ye believe in God. Believe also in me.
That is the way.
The way of peace.
In both parts of this statement, you must read an admonition: Believe in God and believe in me. You must not understand this statement as if in the first part Jesus mentions a fact and only in the second part expresses an admonition, so that he intends to say, “Ye believe in God already, now believe in me as well.” No, in both instances you have admonition, encouragement, and inspiration: “Beloved, believe in God and believe in me.” This twofold admonition is not to be understood as if believing in Jesus and believing in God are two different acts of our spirit, as if these two could ever be separated. Nor is the admonition to be understood in such a way that its two aspects are of equal importance. No, the savior’s intent is “Believe in God through me. Believe in God as he has revealed himself in me and through me to you. Believe in the God of your complete salvation.”
Believe in God and believe in me.
Let your faith—as it cleaves to God through me, as it knows and trusts in God through me—be a real working faith. Let that faith control your mind, rule your will, and take captive your whole life.
Then your heart will not be troubled, no matter how dark the way may be.
Then the peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds, no matter how dark the night of your suffering may be.
Indeed, God in Christ, the God who so wondrously loved you from before the foundation of the world, has granted to you the highest good, has reserved for you the most glorious salvation, and has foreordained that you should be conformed to the image of his Son and live with him eternally. He is the one who foreordained all things in such a way that they must work together to attain the glorious goal of your eternal blessedness in his tabernacle. Everything, literally everything—all things in heaven and on the earth, living and inert creatures, friend and foe, angel and devil, and all their activity and deeds—he has designated, arranged, and given such a place to them in his eternal counsel that they all must cooperate toward your salvation.
That is why everything is so very certain.
That is why everything, literally everything, is so wise and good. Therefore, there is no enemy that can do you harm, no adversity that can hurt you, no sickness and no death that does not serve your good. There are no storm clouds threatening, no hurricanes raging, no waves rising so high, no nights so dark, and no ranting enemies so hateful that they will ever be able to do anything other than work together for the good of those who love God.
Believe in God, believe also in me.
Believe in the God of your complete salvation.
Know him. Trust in him. Do not look first at the storms of life, at the enemies who would destroy you, but look first to God who has loved you with an eternal, unchangeable love revealed to you in Christ Jesus.
Then your heart will not be troubled. Then you know and feel in the depths of your soul that all is well.