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Grief: Friend and Foe

where i end

Excerpt from the book Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope 

I have perceived two pervasive responses in our culture that seem to influence and dominate how we react to grief. The first treats grief as an unwelcome, uninvited trespasser to be shunned or dismissed.

The gospel of John tells a story with which many are familiar. Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, becomes sick. Jesus does not immediately travel to see His ailing friend, but instead arrives several days later. He knows by this time Lazarus is dead. Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha, have buried their brother in a tomb and after mourning for four days, are worn and weary.

When Jesus arrives, He is first met outside the village by Martha. And when Mary is summoned, she falls, rife with grief, at the feet of Jesus, weeping. How does her Lord respond? Does He tell her, "Don't worry. No need to cry. I purposely came late so that Lazarus could die and be raised, so you could see My awesome power, so you would know that I am the One"?

Jesus knows exactly what He's come to do. And, indeed, it's going to be good; it's going to stagger and stun; it's going to usher in incalculable joy. In just a few moments with just a few words, He will impel a rotting corpse back to life. Tears of mourning will be turned to tears of jubilance.

But don't miss this. The apostle John grants us passage to something of the utmost importance. He remembers that upon seeing Mary, Jesus was, "deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled" (John 11:33). And then John tells us that Jesus began to weep (v. 35). We would be wise to linger over these sweet words. Dear reader, we must see and taste and feel the tears falling down Jesus' face. We must hear the guttural cry of our Lord. He suffers His heart to bleed and break. And so must we.

In just a few minutes, Jesus is going to turn death on its head. Couldn't He have skipped the tears? But He doesn't, does He? Jesus weeps. He enters into their grief because they are entering His grief. Here Jesus Christ, the life and light of the world, is affronted by death and darkness. Mary and Martha have swallowed back the bitter dregs of death and in doing so have tasted the sorrow of their Lord, the One who made them for His glory but are living under the crushing weight of the sin-filled world. Jesus' disciple shows us that not only are we are joined to one another in our grief, we are united to Jesus in His.

I mentioned that there were two responses to grief that I wanted to sift. The second response is to treat grief not as a foe but as a friend, a codependent lover. In this case, the griever does not shun grief, but instead coddles it, dotes on it, gives it a position of authority in his life. Grief is indulged at every opportunity. I cannot do my schoolwork because I am grieving. I cannot see your pain because I am so enamored with my own. I cannot be held responsible to complete this task because I am going through a hard time.

To be sure, grief can and does, at times, bring us to our knees. And yet eventually, even in our grief, we must rise. The children still need to be fed, the bills must be paid, the laundry cleaned, the grass cut. Resilience is one of the great virtues of the Christian life. To the war-torn people of Germany, on the heels of a devastating air raid, Helmut Thielicke wrote,

To these wounds of the innermost man, [God] says: "Thy sins are forgiven thee." The other wounds of life are those inflicted by destiny and suffering, by sickness and poverty, by violence of war, by force, and by the sorrow of this world which constantly makes us homeless within it. To this hurt of tormented humanity Jesus says, "Rise, take up thy bed and walk."

We are called to live with strength and courage of heart. A shadow may exist over our joy. But it cannot make us forever numb to joy.

In another story penned by the apostle John, he bids us enter into the tale of a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus and His disciples encounter this man, he is lying near a pool among many other invalids waiting for someone to place him in the healing waters. But alas, when the waters stir, someone else always beats him to it. Jesus sees this man and asks him, "Do you want to be healed?" (see John 5:1–15). Isn't the answer to the question obvious? That's why he's there, right? But perhaps this is not a rhetorical question.

Are we ourselves content with lives of sorrow and sin? Has pain made a permanent dwelling place in our hearts, become a pleasant and satisfying companion? Are we competitively counting our crosses and comparing our wounds with each other? Would we rather blog at the computer continually reminding others and ourselves that we are wounded or, dear friends, do we want to taste and see that the Lord is good?

Do we want to be healed?

Though grief remains a part of us, we should not need nor should we desire to be continually affirmed in our sadness. That doesn't mean we won't sometimes speak of our sorrow or that we won't continue to grieve. Some wounds we bear until heaven. It merely means that grief takes its proper place in our stories, and its role is never that of the star, nor does it play the part of the savior.

We live in the shadow, dear reader, but the darkness cannot overcome the light.

© 2018. Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.

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