Summary: Why Christians can face the grief of death differently than those who have no hope.
Another Way to Grieve
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Note how this little verse tells us something we already know, something we all ought to know, and something we all can know.
First, we all know grief. If we haven’t, we will. Call it what you will—grief, sorrow, mourning—we have all been there. The passage is talking about grief at the death of a loved one. We all know about that. As a preacher, I have stood beside scores and scores of caskets and watched wives, husbands, parents, children, brothers and sisters parade by the final remains of a loved one. They have come from all walks of life. Some were rich. Others were poor. A few have held positions of power and influence in the world. Most did not. Young and old, black and white, they all knew grief.
I have also known grief personally. I have been at many funerals when I wasn’t the preacher. I have stood at the graveside of both of my parents, my grandparents, many uncles, aunts, and cousins. I know from personal experience that grief is more than sadness. Grief takes place on a deeper level. Grief is physical, emotional, and spiritual. We feel the pain. Our hearts race. The tears flow. We lose our appetites. We may feel weak in the knees. We feel emotionally drained. We can’t focus. Our mind races in a dozen directions at once. We replay long forgotten memories. We mentally rehearse conversations that we planned to have but never got around to. The grief cuts all the way to the soul. Grief is a spiritual experience that forces us to contemplate issues we have long avoided. We all know grief.
We grieve for lots of reasons. Part of it comes from the separation. No time is a good time to lose a loved one. Conventional wisdom may suggest that it should be an easy matter to part with an aged parent or one who has lost a battle with a prolonged illness. Not so. We still grieve. Even when we knew it was coming, we grieve.
Sometimes the grief comes from unrealized dreams. A child is struck down in the spring of life. A spouse dies in midlife. We grieve because we have lost more than our loved one. We have lost a part of our future. We grieve for lots of reasons.
Sometimes our grief comes from the sense of our own mortality. Who can go to the funeral of a friend without contemplating his own future demise? Maybe it’s what they call gallows humor that makes us chuckle at the words of the guy who wrote, “I wake up each morning, dust off my wits, Pick up the paper and read the obits. If my name is not there, I know I’m not dead, So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.”
Most of us are like Woody Allen who said, "It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens." A curious little nine year old boy echoed those same sentiments when he prayed, “Dear God, What is it like when a person dies? Nobody will tell me. I just want to know, I don’t want to DO it. Your friend, Mike.” We grieve at others’ deaths because it forces us to contemplate our own!
Some well-meaning people have been known to tell us that we shouldn’t grieve. That’s not what this passage says. It acknowledges that we will grieve. No amount of scolding or condemning will change that. How silly to suggest that we shouldn’t. The great saints of the Bible knew grief. Abraham mourned the passing of Sarah. Isaac was still grieving three years after his mother’s death. David wept when his friend Jonathan died. Who can forget the grief of Job at the loss of his children? Even Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. Scripture even describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus knew what it was to grieve. Grief is not bad or wrong. Grief is a response to the way God made us—creatures that love and care and hurt when we lose a loved one. We feel grief because the creator put eternity in our hearts.
On the surface there is a sameness to grief. It is a universal experience. But beneath the surface it is another matter. Our little verse reminds us of that as well. The text says, “We don’t want you to grieve like the rest of men.” Charlie Brown of Peanut’s fame is always saying “good grief.” That was only an expression of frustration. It doesn’t really mean anything. Yet, on the other hand, our verse suggests that there is more than one kind of grief. There is a good grief that grows from love and the unnaturalness of death. But there is another grief born of hopelessness. I suspect many of us recognize the difference. We ought to!