The Cross Deals With Our… Grief
by Jay Parsons
The Cross Deals With Our Grief
1. The Cross Deals With Our... Grief
etting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
So wrote the author C.S Lewis after the death of his wife Joy, in his book A Grief Observed. This vivid metaphor of amputation when losing a loved one is very helpful to us. The emotion of grief is one of the sharpest and most intense of all human experiences. When we lose one we love so deeply, we feel this initial fierceness of the pain of grief – it ‘pierces our souls’ (Luke 2:35). We are consumed by it, and can find ourselves unable to function in normal life. The Psalmist Asaph describes himself in this way: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Job described himself in dark terms, “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.” The pain of grief is instantly overwhelming, and the people of God are no different to any other in the intensity of this experience.
But then, given time, all human beings find that things begin to change somewhat. The pain is still there, but it is not as fierce, nor as constant, as it once was. This is what Lewis means by grief being like living with an amputation. Grief remains with us, but we find that there are times when we feel it more sharply than others. We find the old feelings of grief triggered by reminders of whom we have lost: by an old photo we come across, by a return to a place we used to visit together. We remember a joke we used to share, or hear a song we once enjoyed, even smell a smell that reminds us of them. At these times, the tears can quickly return, and the grief can quickly flood back in. It can seem to the person going through this, like Lewis, that there will never be an end to this cycle but that it will forever be the case. As the Hymn writer Isaac Watts once described “Thus weeping urges weeping on, in vain our miseries hope relief; For one drop calls another down, till we are drowned in seas of grief.”
As Christian people, we are not spared from this experience. But are we offered any hope in grief? Is grief a forever thing? Will we drown in its swirling seas? The Bible’s answer is that it will feel like that at times, with us barely keeping our heads above water, yet because of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is a hope that outlasts and overcomes grief in the end.
In 1 Thessalonians 4v13-14, Paul writes to a church grieving the loss of some of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Notice that he does not deny their grief (he doesn’t tell them to ‘just get over it’), but nor does he allow them to be swallowed by it. “13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
The Christian gospel says that because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ find death to be like a peaceful sleep from which they will awake to a glorious new life. When Jesus returns, those who have fallen asleep in him will return with him, to meet those of us who are still alive. Wonderfully, we will see them again, Paul says, and therefore we can grieve with hope. This means that though Christian grief is no less painful than non-Christian grief, it is not the same. For we know that death is not the end of the story, we know that Jesus has done something about death through the cross, and so we have a hope and a joy that is steadfast even in the middle of our fiercest griefs.
As we consider this though, a question is raised for us. For we have all lost those who are outside of Christ. Knowing what we do about the eternal destiny of those who reject Jesus, don’t we then have reason to grieve more sharply? Yes we do. This is the great pain of Christian believers. We have hope for ourselves, but we know there is no hope for them. What can we do with this grief? Does God have anything to offer us in this? Yes. He graciously offers us himself. We do not have a God who stands distant from our grief, but one who understands it more fully, and feels it even more painfully than we do. In fact, we have a God who has entered into it.
Jesus Christ is the called a ‘man of sorrows’, familiar with suffering. He spent his life weeping at the pain of this world. He can therefore, sympathise with us and comfort us in our griefs, even over those who are lost eternally. Furthermore, he sends his Spirit to us to be our comforter and he gives us his Word, which promises us that one day all our grief will be taken away. The Christian person, though grief may be an ever-present emotion in this life, can find hope and joy in even our darkest of moments, for we have Christ himself. We live with his presence with us, and we know that one day we will meet the one in whom we have trusted, the one who has tasted but defeated death, the one who lives and loves us, the one who will, so tenderly, “wipe every tear from our eyes.” For in his kingdom, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21v4). The cross deals with our grief.