The Gospel and Grief

The Bible is the definitive guide to grief. Unflinchingly honest, the Scriptures tell us about the roots and realities of life in a ruptured world. It provides solace in our suffering and resources to persevere in the face of seemingly unbearable circumstances.

At the heart of divine revelation stands the gospel of God: the good news of a suffering God on a tree, an empty tomb, and an exalted King. It is this message that provides the greatest power and hope amid tragedy.

To begin with, the gospel is about rescuing us from the ravages of sin, death and the evil one. It is our only hope for a renewed world, healed relationships and mended selves.

The cessation of pain is a future reality guaranteed by the work of Christ. He became the man of sorrows to rid us of sorrow. He died to end the reign of death. He suffered to extinguish suffering. For the Christian, grief and pain are a temporary state of affairs. This future hope gives us courage in our pain and grit as we hold to God’s promises.

The gospel that saves us also shows us the nature of God. The person and work of Christ are the clearest display of the character of our Creator. In him, we see compassion embodied. The number one emotion attributed to Jesus in the New Testament is compassion.

The language of compassion repeatedly applied to Christ literally refers to the bowels or inner-parts. It refers to a deep, visceral response to the pain of others. When Christ encountered pain he engaged from his gut with grace, love and grief.

It has been said that compassion is love as it encounters pain. The idea of compassion is to “suffer with” another person. We see this in Jesus. He grieves with those who grieve. He weeps, sighs and aches when encountering hurting humans.

The gospel of Christ displays a God who comes near, enters the fray and suffers with and for us. God is present to us in our pain. Presence may be the single most comforting and important thing we can provide when others are grieving.

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The Command to Weep

“Jesus wept,” two words that change everything (Jn 11:35). God hurts. God grieves. God weeps. Jesus is proof. When the Triune God meets pain he does the opposite of flee, he absorbs. He enters the fray. Paul urges followers of Christ to take the some posture. When we encounter those who weep we are commanded to weep (Rom 12:15). Weep is an imperative in this verse.

In striving to mimic the compassion of Christ we must grow comfortable walking the road of pain with others. We need to be students, ever developing a framework for engaging grief and honing tools to help our neighbors.

Dr. Alan Wolfert, founder of the Center for Loss, developed a model for grief engagement called “companioning.” The model is insightful and aligns well with the spirit of biblical compassion. Humility is the foundation of the eleven principles that guide the framework.

  1. Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.
  2. Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  3. Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.
  4. Companioning is about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  5. Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  6. Companioning is about walking alongside;it is not about leading or being led.
  7. Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words.
  8. Companioning is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.
  9. Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.
  10. Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.
  11. Companioning is about compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.

The Gift of God in the Book of Lamentations

The presence of Lamentations in the canon points us to the kindness and graciousness of our God. The simple fact that you can open up a Bible and find this book there testifies of a God who deeply cares about us. It is God’s voice toward us and our voice toward him all at the same time. It is an inspired account of an anguished people voicing their pain to God. As we listen closely we discern the voice of God in their cries and laments. This is God’s word to us about how God would have us communicate with him. It is a gracious invitation to engage with a gracious God in the midst of horrific circumstances. It’s divine inspiration and placement in the canon is a gift. We are the richer for its solace and voice. Where would we be without such a companion in our darkness? What would we do without such rigorous expressions and metaphors to articulate our deepest emotions?

This book gives us voice. It instructs our voice. It emboldens our voice. It testifies to us that though we lose everything we never lose our voice. All else may be stripped away from Israel, but they still have their voice to cry, petition, and lament. This he will never take away. He has bound himself to us by a covenant that guarantees his ear. He will hear. He must hear. He has bound himself to do so. Thus when all else is removed—possessions, vocations, health, friends, family, and freedom—one thing remains: voice. We see this in Israel, the slave in Egypt. We discern this in the shrill cry of Job. We recognize this in the exiled people of God. The loss of all things except voice is manifest most clearly in a carpenter outside the Jerusalem wall. Stripped of everything but his voice. The cry of forsakenness is a bold refusal of silence.

Do you see the gift of God in authoring such a book?  He knows our frame. He knows our limits. He knows our needs. He instructs us in the way of pain and suffering. He invites us into a bold dialogue with himself and he gives us the words to speak. Pain is inevitable in this earthly sojourn. The pathway through pain to peace and rest is not inevitable. Bitterness, callousness, faithlessness, and despair are very real ending points for our experience of pain. Lamentations is a canonical declaration of God’s commitment to walk with us through the pain. This is a commitment I am thankful to be on the other end of and a gift that I am very glad to receive.