As Christians, we are not always comfortable with grief. If we truly believe in eternal life, should we not celebrate when someone dies and goes to heaven? After Oliver died, countless people told us “he was in a better place,” which may be true, but I can assure you it is no comfort to the grieving. And, telling a mother and father that their child is better off without them is not likely to be believed — children belong with their parents.
For Christians, grief can bring a sense of guilt since we should find comfort in God’s promises. But to deny that grief is to deny our humanity and is clearly not something God expects us to do. The famous short verse of John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” is Jesus’ expression of grief over his friend Lazarus. Jesus grieves and yet he is about to raise his friend from the dead. If no other verse speaks to the humanity of Jesus, “Jesus wept” clearly does. I wish it said “Jesus grieved” because then maybe we would all be more comfortable with grief.
Grief is a mirror of love since we do not grieve what we do not love. Or as the poet Galway Kinnell expresses better: “If love had not smiled we would not grieve.” Trying to comfort a Christian in grief with descriptions of how their loved one is now happy completely misses the point. Grief is not for the one we have lost, but is for us because of what is now missing. We grieve because part of our life is forever gone. It is why people often cry when sending a loved one off to college or seeing them move to another city. We grieve their absence from our daily life. Of course, that grief is assuaged by the ability to still connect with them and the likelihood that we’ll see them again. When someone dies, our grief has no hope of connecting with that person again in our life. Yes, we may connect with them again in heaven, but that helps little while we live on for years on earth.
However, the bible is full of expressions of grief that we as Christians should acknowledge. Psalm 31 models for us a believer in grief.
(9) Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
(10) My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.
This believer is calling out his distress and anguish. And the part that really hits me is his life is also consumed by “my years of groaning.” At some other time I’ll reflect more on this, but suffice it to say that grief does not end and we do not “get over it.” “Years of groaning” is a powerful verse for the grieving because we understand. Six years after Oliver died we are still in the midst of grief and David’s song tells us that is okay.
Two verses later, we come across this heart wrenching verse:
(12) I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
When we meet Christians in grief, instead of offering solace with promises, offer solace through understanding. If David can feel forgotten and like broken pottery, why do we expect the rest of us to be okay with the death of a loved one?
As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”
As Christians, perhaps our grief is different from those who do not believe in the resurrection. But, Paul acknowledges we do grieve. In other words, as Christians we can and should grieve. And, as Christians, we should support others in their grief instead of trying to move them beyond it.