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.