I recently received a call from a pastor friend asking me to pray for him. He had conducted a funeral for an older man, the father of one of his friends. I should say they were more than friends. They met every week for pie and ice cream and to mentor one another. The pastor asked me to pray for him because this mentor friend of his had been killed in a car accident. Two deaths in a very short time.
My friend is grieving along with the family of these men. He has experienced a significant loss, and according to him, he is very angry.
Grief is nothing new. The emotions are raw and confusing. Often they are vented toward God even if we say we don’t believe in him. Our emotions often resemble those that a child has for a parent. How we approach grief says a lot about our perspective on God.
For example, the brand of Christianity I grew up with avoids grief as if it were something bad. When a tragedy or loss that brings grief happens, God is often viewed in one of several ways.
1. God caused it or allowed it to happen for a reason. I have to accept that and try to figure out the reason.
2. What kind of God would do or allow this? Where was God?
3. God didn’t cause or allow this, but he will comfort us.
The questions surrounding grief are broader than those having to do with an individual grief experience. Reflecting a different attitude than the ones listed above, the Bible conceives of grief as a normal part of life in a broken world. Significant portions of the Psalms and the entire book of Lamentations are dedicated to engaging fully in the experience of grief. People are portrayed embracing it and wrestling with the realities and emotions associated with it.
The picture of Jesus we see, beginning in the Old Testament, is of a Savior who is “acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3, NLT). This picture is painted for us again in the New Testament when Jesus prays for a lost world and when he encounters people with hardened hearts toward the poor and diseased. His acquaintance with grief stemmed both from his own experience of it as a God in relationship with broken people, and also from the encounters he had as a human with others living in it.
Could God fix everything? Yes, and he promises that one day he will. The Bible promises a life that will one day be grief- and sorrow-free, when Jesus returns. Until then, here are the promises we can trust.
First, God is present with us in our grief (John 14:18), offering encouragement, comfort, and healing (Psalm 46:1; 147:3; Isaiah 49:13; Matthew 5:4; and 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Second, the experience of grief isn’t permanent (Jeremiah 31:13). Joy will come again.
To allow ourselves the experience of grief is to know what it means to be human. It also is a way we begin to understand the heart of God.
Jack Radcliffe is a husband, father of four, coach (www.redwoodcoach.com), ministry trainer and speaker, dean of the Youth Ministry Institute of the Tennessee Conference UMC, and adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary.