Grief, Loss, and Trusting God’s Promises
Throughout life, one of the inevitable experiences of every human being is that of loss, grief, and suffering. Reminders of the decisions we make every day and how, without Christ, we would choose nothing but death and rebellion. It is a constant reminder that we live in a broken, corrupt world in need of restoration and rescue. While these concepts are nice thoughts…when grief and loss take hold, they seem to be far off. It’s the difference between when you are going through those same emotions and when someone else is. Watching a loved one go through this (especially a spouse or dear friend) can be almost as heartbreaking as going through it yourself, but with others, empathy has a tendency to be short-lived and we are expecting people to resolve the change in their minds within a few weeks and move on. In today’s world, you are going to have a lot of bible teachers, pastors, and theologians tell you that in the midst of your suffering that questioning God and demanding answers are perfectly natural. They are completely correct in this…but that isn’t a good thing. Remember our nature is to do that which is evil, rebellious and proud. So going with what is “natural” generally isn’t a good idea. Paul in fact tells us,
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Now I am not saying that to have emotions is to give into the natural…but our actions in response to those emotions should be what separate those who are in Christ from those who are not. I’d like to give you an example if I may. The situation that spurred this post is a tragic one. A man who I have come to love and a mentor of mine lost his wife this past weekend. For twelve years she battled with a closed head injury which in turn caused dementia and eventual alzheimer’s. When all of this began I was a teenager starting a ministry, and my friend was a man open and ready to ministry wherever God called him. He came onto the ministry team and discipled and mentored me. His influence was helpful, needed, and humbling beyond words. After the ministry ended, and I was set to get married he continued to mentor, meet with me and take a personal interest in my life, all of which was done over a period where I felt alienated from the Church.
Shortly after that, my friend’s wife was diagnosed and began to go downhill…quickly. For 6 years, I watched my friend watch his wife disintegrate before his very eyes. His grief was palpable, his suffering great…and threw it all he praised God. For the last 2-3 years his wife has been in a nursing home and for all of that time he has been with her. Every day he got up went to the nursing home and cared for her…all the way till the end. He started Bible studies with the nurses’ discipling, and loving on them as he did with me. Here is a man watching his wife slowly die…and he persists in proclaiming the person of Jesus…it was truly a wonder to behold.
Some people may think this man to be beyond amazing already but I haven’t even given you context yet. You see just before his wife was diagnosed she became his ex-wife. That’s right…she divorced him moved to Florida and that was that. That is…until she began to exhibit truly strange behavior at which he himself went down and got her. He took her to the doctor’s had her examined and was then diagnosed. For months, she denied her condition, resenting him for making it known to her and treating him quite badly from what I remember. That is…until one day she just stopped fighting. He cared for her…loved her and in the end she remarried him while she could still make the decision to do so. This is what happens when a person puts their emotions to the side and does the right thing. He was angry with her (the numerous lunch meetings and phone calls made that clear) but he did not harbor that anger…he released it focused on his calling as a Christian and loved her.
Close to 6 months ago I remember giving him a call to check up on him…he sounded tired, worn out, and to be quite honest…depressed (of course who could blame him). He was ready…he was ready for her to go home and be with her Lord (she was a Christian as well) and no longer suffer. When speaking about his wife his grief and sense of loss were tangible and thick. Only one thing seemed to lift that fog and that was talking about his favorite topic… Jesus. He went on and on about the girls he had been. It would have made the manliest of men cry like a child who’s lollipop had just been stolen (I’m not joking when I say this).
This past weekend my friend watched his best friend, high school sweetheart, and twice married wife die. And in seeing him on Tuesday night…all he could speak of was his excitement for her to be with Christ. He was the man I remembered before all of this happened, the man who at every chance he could pointed to Jesus and away from himself. Now, some reading this know me…you know that I can be…direct, even to the point of being rude and possibly even a little offensive. My friend and I are, essentially, the same person in this respect (one of the reasons we get along so well). So to see how God has used him…and continues to use him is an encouragement to me. He is one of the best men I have ever known, and will be forever thankful to God for bringing him into my life when he did.
With all of this being said…why tell this story (other than it is a wicked awesome example of selfless Christian love)? Well there are two reasons actually…first it is to show that mourning isn’t bad (he mourned his wife the entire time), and two to show that once that loss has occurred that despair is not something Christian should dwell in. Our culture is one that does whatever it can to preserve life (well unless you’re an unborn fetus than its kill, kill, kill but that’s a different post). So we see death and loss as an unexplainable, insufferable despair that we all have to go through. For the Christian however…death isn’t…scary. It isn’t goodbye…it isn’t final, it is a period of separation from those we love…more of a see you later than a good-bye. And it’s a happy see you later at that…your loved one has gone to be with Christ in heaven…how is there any sadness in that?
Some will accuse me of giving “pat answers” that I am giving “Christian comforts” that do nothing to relieve the grief, and pain, and loss felt by a person…and all of that is true…if you don’t believe it. You see…sometimes…I don’t think Christians “mean” what they say. They say they believe in the promises of Christ…but throw their hands up at God and question his character the second a calamity comes their way. This is not the actions of a person who has a relationship with Christ…knows him…and trusts him. Are there times where we all need to be thunked…yup (happens to me more times than I would like to admit) but it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence. Jesus should be able to slap you upside the head and you pay attention…he should not have to bring out the baseball bat, brass knuckles, and crow bar and lovingly beat you into submission on a regular basis. In the end…our suffering, grief, and pain are reminders of our sin and its consequences…at the same time…there is a hope that we have. A hope that Christ defeated death and reigns in victory over it. As Paul wrote,
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where oh death is you victory? Where oh death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
We have the victory through Christ…so in the midst of your pain, and grief and sadness remember…in the end…we win. Peace and Blessings.
In Christ’s Love
Justin (AKA The Nerdy Theologian)