“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
It seems to me emotions have the remarkable dual capacity to both inhibit our ability to hear truth and to amplify our understanding of truth. Why do we sing worship songs? Something happens to truth when properly paired with music. When we sing the truths we know our emotions awaken and resonate with the truths which makes them somehow feel more true. The truth becomes not only a true statement, but something that we feel viscerally is true. It transitions from head truth to gut truth.
On the flip side, when we are overwhelmed with emotions, we will have a hard time receiving truth that runs contrary to what we feel. An individual grieving the loss of a loved one will have a hard time receiving the truth that every good gift comes from God who is perfectly loving, kind, and gracious. The truth is still true, but in that moment it won’t feel true. In fact, speaking this truth to a grieving individual may cause more harm than healing. This is what we see Jesus articulate in John 16.
In this passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure and his disciples are feeling confused and sad. Jesus points this out in verse 6 – “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” I love that Jesus does this. He doesn’t shame them or correct them, but rather he simply makes public what they were feeling in private. He lets all the disciples see they are not alone in their sorrow and confusion.
Then, in verse 12, Jesus says something remarkable – “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus says there are so many more glorious truths he wants to tell them, but it’s not time yet. In fact, he says that the truths he wants to share carry a weight that would crush them in their current condition.
Why couldn’t the disciples receive these truths? There seems to be two reasons. First, Jesus points out that they lacked the Holy Spirit who would help them understand these truths. Second, as Jesus revealed in verse 6, sorrow had so filled their hearts that they are unable to receive more truth at that time. It is as though sorrow set brackets around what the disciples would be able to hear and receive in that moment. The truth is still truth and it is good, but they would not be able to receive it as good in their current state.
In a season of heightened stress, confusion, and worry this passage is particularly pertinent. We are likely to be more sensitive to hard truths in this season. Many of us are faint hearted and need encouragement instead of rebuke. Many of us feel like we have no reserves left and everyday begs the question of whether or not we’ll make it to bedtime with our sanity. May we rest in Jesus’ presence and provision and may we remember Jesus’ words to the disciples as he finished their discussion in John 16:33:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”