The world changes when people suffer serious grief and sorrow. Everything seems and feels different. Of course, different people respond to grief and suffering in various ways, but all face this as a serious personal difficulty. At times it is overwhelming. Grief and sorrow change lives, sometimes permanently. This short article offers a look, in a Christian context, at how we might best face this difficult experience.
One thing stands out as fairly common to our humanity in times of grief and sorrow and that is, we try to make some sense of it. We want to understand if our suffering means anything so that we might better cope with it, and whether it might even have a purpose. Yes, the first shock of what caused the deep sorrow might send us reeling, baffled and feeling depressed. Then as our emotions swirl around it seems like trying to see through a thick fog. But slowly an outline begins to show and you may little by little find a way forward as you learn to cope with the loss or serious change that caused your grief and sorrow, even though you will never be the same again.
This idea of finding a purpose in grief and sorrow that might help to lessen its horrible pointlessness is challenging for people in these post-Christian times, although some may be helped by sharing their grief with an experienced counsellor, or reading about grief and gaining psychological insights. Atheists who suffer deep grief and sorrow also have their humanity to struggle with when it seems to be saying, ‘this seems to be so wrong!’ This is hard to face. If there is no meaningful or higher purpose to life on the basis of the living God, but only as a weird accident, then all of our human experience, not just the grief and sorrow, has no final meaning. It is all just a part of nature and if there is no rhyme or reason to it, there is no point in thinking about the ‘why’ question, even though I would gently invite any such to ask why they are asking ‘why?’ Yes, it does point to a moral standard of right and wrong that comes from the Creator God himself, and how things have gone so wrong in our morally fallen world.
But, if you are a real Christian and know that God has accepted you and loved you through what Jesus suffered on the cross, you will know how God’s peace and the promises of his word really do help you in that difficult time. So, are Christians simply weak people who need supernatural support, or is it true ‘that the Lord is near to the broken-hearted?’ (Psalm 34:18). Yes, this is a faith issue, and that people who have not yet come to personal faith in Christ will see this in a completely different way.
However, I will certainly contend that Christianity is not a soft refuge for people who could not face the harsh sorrows of a troubled world. Look at the lives of humble Christians who have suffered great hardship and who see no less of the love of God poured out for them. Look anywhere; go to northern Nigeria, to countries in North Africa, the Middle East, or China, anywhere there is repression and outright persecution of Christians, and you will find people able to hold their heads high; people who are serious in their commitment to follow Christ with great dignity, faith and enduring courage, wherever he leads. They do this in the deep conviction that Jesus not only died for their sins to give them peace with God, but rose again in triumph over darkness and death to bring about the reality of sins forgiven, in a life worth living, with all the troubles, trusting in an ever-living Saviour, who is near at hand. Jesus’ own word is clear, ‘in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
Look at the way the early Christians suffered great hardships in joy and peace inspired by the Holy Spirit and you may begin to see that here are people, who in the deepest griefs and sorrows have learnt to see the loving hand of God right in the midst of it all.
Look today at young Christians who may have lost a child through serious illness, or are facing some other calamity, bereavement or loss, and you will find, not perfect people, but those who are finding out the greatness of the love of God and that his peace and strength are sufficient for each day.
There is certainly no quick fix or simplistic magic bullet for the challenges of grief and sorrow, but through faith in Christ, the one who carried our awful condemnation, we find an all-sufficient God and Saviour. We see that he has even entered right into our own human experience of grief and sorrow and death itself, and whose word assures us that, ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7).
Now, take comfort from this, that if you belong to Christ, even in times of deepest grief and sorrow, ‘we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
By Michael J. S. Austin, Ph.D.
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