Living through the seasons of grief.
I’ve been thinking about how our ideas about God impact our grief.
In the search for healthy grieving, I bump up against God frequently. Sometimes as I listen to others interject their thoughts about God it makes me cringe. In his book, Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancey recalls, “I once attended a funeral service for a teen-age girl killed in a car accident. Her mother wailed, ‘The Lord took her home. He must have had some purpose . .. Thank You, Lord.’” If I were a person without faith in God, this mother’s concept of God would send me running in the opposite direction I thought God might be traveling.
C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain gives this insight, “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love,” and limit His wisdom by what seems to us to be wise.”
I’d like to approach God from the lens of those who mourn. What do we need to know about God in order to grieve in a healthy way?
That begs the question: is there unhealthy grief? Yes, I believe there is. Grief that uses substances, fantasy, work, activities, travel, or other people to pacify or distract the pain is unhealthy grief. Grief that pretends everything is okay and is not honest with ourselves or others is unhealthy. This leads to a life of potential events that, at any moment, can trigger the bereaved with overwhelming waves of despair, thus perpetuating the cycle of unhealthy grieving. On the other hand, grieving that wrestles with the pain, processes the emotions, is honest, deals with regrets and guilt, and accepts the loss is healthy. Healthy grieving is hard work, but it leads to a rich and fulfilled life. So how does our picture of God influence our grieving experience?
If we picture God as distant, arbitrary, controlling, harsh, punitive, or fearful, we might find ourselves trying to make meaning of our suffering by blaming Him and His authority. Or we might discard God all together and eliminate all possibility of finding comfort or hope from Him. Either option would foster unhealthy grieving. How? Let me illustrate. If I lived all my life believing or thinking that a mango was poisonous and tasted bitter, I would miss out on one of the best fruit flavors in the world. While it is not a life or death issue, it illustrates how thinking about God in untruthful ways leads us away from Him and all the goodness He has to offer, especially when we need Him most.
On the other hand, consider that God is not trivial in His love. Love that comes from Divinity honors every being’s freedom of choice. We are free to choose our life style habits that cause disease and death. We are free to engage in substances that can reduce mental function and cause accidents and death. We are free to hurt and kill others: for if love were ever forced, it would cease to be love. Therefore, God neither forces his love upon us nor demands it from us. This kind of freedom is the sweetness of mango. It is good, attractive, winsome, and inviting. It brings hope for healing when our hearts have been broken by the chaos of living on a planet of pain and death.
Rather than thinking that God is the cause of our grief, we take stock and consider that natural laws of cause and effect are working. Some diseases have no cures. Some accidents just happen. But they are not God’s doing. Instead, God is our greatest source of comfort, hope and healing. He is the one who knows and understands our pain and suffering. Having endured the suffering of eternal separation, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are personally acquainted with loss beyond explanation. Grieving with this understanding of God will lead us into healthy processing. We have Someone we can trust with our pain. We have hope in His promises to heal our broken heart. We have confidence that He hears our crying and comforts us. There is a LOVE that holds us like strong everlasting arms. He assures us that with His healing we will become more compassionate and understanding of others because of our own journey through grief. He is the master Repurposer who creates beauty from our anguish. Knowing God’s heart of love makes all the difference in our grief.
© Karen Nicola June 2016