For some people the phrase good grief, if not immediately associated with the classic Peanuts cartoon strips, seems something of an oxymoron. What can be good about grieving a departed loved one? In the first place, there is such a thing as bad grief, inconsolable grief, grief that consumes the griever, or grieving without hope. The Bible doesn’t commend or command that sort of grieving.
Paul discusses good and bad grief in 1 Corinthians 15. He tells us that grieving is both normal and natural — even for Christians. As I said in the eulogy for our Christy girl, you can measure the depth of the love crater left behind for the deceased by the depth of the grieving when they pass away. Just so. It is right for Christians to grieve. Those who have loved and been loved much, grieve much. There is, however, a proviso: “BUT do do not grieve like those who have no hope.”
Now, I have met Christians who thought they had to be Stoics, and pretend they didn’t hurt. Strong people, they thought, and especially men, should not allow themselves to grieve deeply and should certainly not let their grief show.
Wrong. That’s Stoic apatheia: the aim of avoiding deeper emotion or pathos. Forget that. That is not Christian theology at all. Christians are the very ones to grieve deeply because they have loved and been loved deeply.
Here is one of the mysteries about grieving. Grieving, for a Christian, is about yourself. That is to say, we are not grieving that someone is pain-free in heaven with the Lord! That’s cause for celebration. We are not grieving the condition of the Christian loved one at the moment when we do the grieving!
For the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. There is nothing grave in that. No indeed. We are grieving for our own sense of loss, our own sorrow over the sudden departure, our own feelings of being bereft. Grief is the self’s shock and awe over what has happened to itself. And at some point you have to say, if a Christian’s grieving goes on perpetually it increasingly becomes apparent that we are too self-absorbed. Perhaps we’re enjoying a pity party, enjoying all the attention and sympathy it brings not to the departed loved one but to us!
I have ministered to people like that. I remember a little old lady who, even though her husband had died 30 years previously, still had not gotten beyond the fact. Instead she was dwelling on the past wistfully, feeling sorry for herself, and missing the opportunity to go on living positively, remembering that “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” Much though I tried, I couldn’t talk or pray Miss Pearl out of her funk. Her experience of grief had made her bitter, not better.
What does it mean to grieve, then, as one who has hope? It means we grieve with one eye forever fixed on the eschatological horizon. It means we grieve knowing that resurrection will reverse Death. It means we grieve knowing that Death will not have the last word about us. Life will. Elsewhere, Paul reminds us of the old saying “Who hopes for what they already have?” Just so. The hope to which he refers is not something we possess now in a fully realized form. While I may have comfort now, and solace now, and peace now, none of this is my hope.
My hope is in nothing less than a dramatic reversal of death in the flesh. My hope is not even just in the Risen One, though that is true enough, but in his promise to raise those who are in Christ from the dead. Nothing less than this is my hope. So, as I grieve for our Christy, I do so in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. I cannot wait to see her new resurrection form. If she is any more bright and beautiful than she is in the picture above, I will need really good sunglasses to view her!
Death has a way of convincing us of what really matters in life. It shuts up our petty squabbles and complaints and dumb remarks. What really matters about the future is our resurrection — not harps and clouds, not celestial ambrosia or heavenly hash, but resurrection. I can’t wait to see Christy in the Kingdom.
That is my hope, and that is my faith, and there are reasons I hold to this. It is not a blind, or illogical faith, or one unfounded on evidence. I hold to this because I remember that Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. I can hear him say to my Christy, “Talitha cumi.”
Although I am tearing up as I write this, Paul’s words remind me that it’s okay to have tears in our eyes as long as we have hope in our hearts.