Good Grief

Here is a link to the podcast from Week 2 in case you missed it:

Grief will enter the equation any time you discuss the subject of death. If you live long enough, grief will be something that is as inevitable as death and taxes. Grief is not only associated with death, but can come through experiencing the “loss” of a number of things in this life. You can grieve over moving, losing a job, ending a friendship or relationship, not having something you’ve always wanted, the death of a dream, your deteriorating health, and a number of other things. All of this points to the fact that grief is an integral part of this life.

The reason we grieve as human beings is due to the fact that we were created for love and by love. C.S. Lewis says it this way: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”[1]

Grief in and of itself is not good, but Scripture tells us that grief is actually something that can be leveraged for good. The author of Ecclesiastes actually goes as far as to say that it is better to mourn than it is to celebrate.[2] How can he say such a thing? It is because Christianity and Judaism have a rich history of seeing value in experiencing suffering and in the grief process itself. Scripture repeatedly shows how grief can remind us of eternity as well as our dependence upon God. Other cultures have not seen grief the same way. “The Greeks and Romans despised it; Eastern religions seek to live above it; but Christians and Jews see it as a refining fire.”[3]

American culture today typically follows the pattern of other cultures when it comes to grief rather than finding value in the process. We are told to bury it, hide it and move on with our lives. Scripture, however, implies that there is much to learn from the process.[4] One ancient Jewish grieving ritual is called “sitting Shiva.” In this process, friends and family members would go over to the house of the person mourning and just sit with them. The friends and family members would not speak to the person grieving unless they spoke first. This process lasted a total of seven days.[5] During the grieving process, they had common practices of not reading the Bible unless it was from the Book of Lamentations and of Job. The person that had recently experienced the loss was not allowed to work for this period of time, was not allowed to wear clothes that had been recently washed, and was usually not even allowed to leave the house. They were supposed to sit with their grief in community and work through the process.

By grieving in community, the whole group was supposed to allow the grief process to “sober them up.” That is why the author of Ecclesiastes says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.”[6] While this seems counterintuitive, Jesus essentially says the same thing in Luke. He says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”[7] He goes on to say, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”[8] Laughing was associated with insanity and “madness” in these cultures, while mourning was associated with wisdom and being wise. Again, this is because grief reminds you of eternity and your dependence upon God. One of the challenges living as a Christian in our culture is learning to grieve well so that we can recapture what it means to live with a hope for eternity.

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. (Harcourt Brace & Company: New York, NY, 1960). Pg. 169.

[2] Ecclesiastes 7:2

[3] Life Application Study Bible (Accordance electronic ed. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), n.p.

[4] Grief is not so much a “state,” but is more of a “process.” To learn more about the grief process from a Christian perspective, check out this resource: Westberg, Granger E. Good Grief. (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN, 1962).

[5] “Shiva” is the Hebrew word for “seven.”

[6] Ecclesiastes 7:3

[7] Luke 6:21

[8] Luke 6:25

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