Grieving Like No One Else

Have you ever been 8:28-ed?

That’s what my wife and I started calling it when our son had cancer. It’s that occasion when some well meaning Christian, confronted with real pain and real distress, can’t think of what to say in response, so they just go straight to Romans 8:28. Getting 8:28-ed can sound all different kinds of ways:

“Don’t worry. God is working all things for the good.”

“The bad won’t last forever. It will all be okay in the end.”

“God knows what He’s doing.”

“When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.”

All true statements. But just because something’s true doesn’t mean it’s necessarily helpful at a given moment. Theological truth, especially in times of suffering, should not be wielded like a blunt instrument, and when it is, it can often crush in an attempt to heal. We, as Christians, have the tendency to use these truthful statements to push us passed grief too quickly. That’s why, I think, it’s good to find Paul’s commentary on grief in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:

“We do not want you to uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”

When we throw pithy statements of comfort around so easily we might unintentionally be violating the spirit of the apostle is saying here. Notice that he never says that we should not grieve; he says that the manner in which we grieve should be very different than those who do not believe in Jesus. Grief is good and right and necessary. In fact, Christians should be the best at grieving because their grief is unique in at least two ways:

1. We grieve more hopefully.

Grief is about loss. And while we primarily think of grief in terms of losing a person, we can also grieve other things – a dream, a career, a relationships – pretty much anything that we have a deep association with. Whenever that thing is taken from us, we feel a void in its place – and that’s exactly how we should feel. But as Christians, our grief is always tempered with a sense of expectation, because we hope in a day when grief will be a thing of the past, because loss will be a thing of the past. When Christians, grieve, then, they don’t grieve despairingly; they grieve hopefully because Jesus – through His life, death, and resurrection – has shown us that death is not the final word.

The Christian grieves with one eye on the coffin and one eye on the empty tomb.

2. We grieve more deeply.

But there’s another reason why Christians grieve differently; this one, though is not quite as expected as the first. I believe Christians can (and should) grieve more deeply than others. The reason we grieve more deeply is because Christians understand and embrace that suffering and the loss it creates is not random; it’s not by happenstance; and it’s not some kind of cosmic accident. Christians know that ultimately all suffering comes from sin. When sin entered the world, everything in the created order was broken. As a result, there is grief. So when we grieve, we are doing something more profound than crying for a singular loss; we are mourning the entire state of creation. We are recognizing that with this death, with this disappointment, with this disease, we are beholding yet another example of how things were not supposed to be.

We mourn and groan not only for our own loss, but the entire state of creation.

So, Christian, do not just grieve; grieve like no one else. Grieve more hopefully, but in the midst of that hope, grieve more deeply. Let the hope of the resurrection hold hands with the sorrow of the crucifixion, and grieve and rejoice in ways that point to the terrible nature of sin and the greatness of the redemption that’s on its way.

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  • CarrieZ says:


  • Doc B says:

    I’m afraid I can’t ‘amen’ this one so easily.

    You seem to imply that when certain folks, “When confronted with real pain and distress”, aren’t feeling some of that pain and distress themselves, and simply say something rather than say nothing.

    I think you are being selfish.

    Those folks are feeling some of your pain, too, and they reach for the most powerful, most comforting truth they know, and in compassion, say it to you. Rejecting that as unhelpful says more about the receiver than the sender.

    When I’ve suffered the loss of family members, I’ve heard some people say some things that probably won’t ever be recorded in a book of great quotations. But I knew they meant well and were “Mourning with those (me) who mourn.”

    Your dismissal of ‘theological truth’ and ‘truth statements’ worries me. I’ve yet to exegete anything from those verses that insist that we say something helpful by obfuscating truth as revealed in God’s word.

    The only way to ensure we never say anything that is not helpful would be to never say anything at all. And I hope we can agree that remaining silent is not the proper path under these circumstances.

  • MK says:

    Doc – Thanks for the comment and for expressing your concern. Let me see if I can address what you’ve said above.

    First of all, I didn’t mean to imply in anyway that verses like Romans 8:28 were incorrect. Quite the contrary – these are the very promises that give us hope to grieve like no one else. What I was trying to point out was that these verses should push us to be able to truly grieve, and grieve appropriately, when on occasion, it seems to me they are “used” because we are uncomfortable with grieving. If, someone is as you say, “mourning with those who mourn,” there is a great difference in pastorally applying these texts and simply stating them and walking away.

    Secondly, I don’t think you can categorically say that saying something is better than saying nothing. In some cases that might be true; but in other cases saying nothing but practicing the ministry of presence might be precisely what is in order. Take Job’s friends, for example. They were much better ministers when they simply sat in the midst of another’s pain rather than trying to make comment on that pain.

    Thirdly, the purpose of the post was not to offer an overall commentary on the nature of comforting others. It was meant to point out that the promises of God do not keep us from grieving; they teach us how to grieve rightly.

  • Janna says:

    I like this post a lot, Michael. I totally agree with your response to the commenter that there are times silence is better than the statements above. My grief for Thomas has been unlike any emotion I had ever experienced. I love your statement about grieving with one eye on the coffin and the other on the tomb. That is very comforting to this sad mama’s heart.

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