Summary: The Life of Abraham, Part 9 of 10.
GOOD GRIEF (GEN 23)
Charlie Brown, from the popular Peanuts comic strip, blurts out two words whenever he is stuck, trapped, or frustrated. His favorite expression is “Good grief!”
Death or bereavement in the family is a hurting, devastating, and overwhelming affair. Recovering from the loss of a loved one or family member is a slow, painful, and lengthy process. Researchers from the Medical College of Virginia, in a study reported in Psychology Today, concluded that the death of a close relative is the single biggest contributor to depression. A serious illness would increase a person’s risk of depression by 330%, divorce/breakup raises it to an unhealthy 1,130%, serious marital problem and assault pushes risk to an alarming 1,400%, but the risk of depression soars to a dangerous 1,500% in the death of a close relative (Psychology Today 11-12/95).
Abraham and his constant companion and longtime wife Sarah loved each other. Their unusual love story is one for the ages. They were very devoted to each other. When Abraham requested his wife to tell outsiders that she was his sister and not his wife, she dutifully obliged. When Sarah expelled her servant girl Hagar, the mother of Abraham’s first son Ishmael, Abraham reluctantly complied. Their love survived the long and treacherous road to the Promised Land, the early and self-doubting days of childlessness, and the explosive and divisive quarrels in the family. They had lived as young newly-weds with Abraham’s father Terah in Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:29); on their own and prospered in the new land; and the dream of becoming parents when Isaac war born. However, the father of many nations (Rom 4:17) was now without his wife Sarah, who died of old age. How did the father of faith feel? What would life be like without Sarah? Where would he find the strength to go on? What could he do to honor her life?
Grief hardly qualifies as being good, but grieving is good. The loss of a loved one, while it triggers a grave crisis in the home, is not the end of the world for surviving family members. How is grieving good? Why does grieving make tragedy bearable? What should we do when a loved one passes away? And how should we respond to others in grief?
WEEP ALONE PATIENTLY
23:1 Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. (Gen 23:1-2)
C. S. Lewis, the well-known Christian author wrote:
"To love at all is vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possible 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 careful 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 only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers...of love is Hell. (Swindoll, Quest)
Abraham mourned and wept. What’s the difference? Weeping is a personal response to grief while mourning or lamenting is frequently a ceremony that involves rending the clothes, beating the breasts, and tearing of hair. The first mourning recorded in the Bible, significantly, is Abraham’s lamenting over the loss of his wife Sarah. We do not know how long Abraham mourned, but at Jacob’s death his children mourned for seven days (50:10).
Many Christians struggle for the right words to say to people who are grieving or suffering loss. Their words often reflect their negative opinion of grief. The most common words of advice given to someone at the loss of a loved one are “Don’t cry” and “Don’t feel bad.” Well-meaning advice like “I’m sure there is a purpose behind all this” or “Time will heal all things” is out of line and out of place. The worst advice I’ve heard so far given to a person who had lost a loved one is, “Jesus needs him more than you do.”
Dear Abby gives this advice on how to respond to those who are grieving: “How one handles grief is a personal matter. Let the one who has suffered the loss take the lead. If he feels like talking, encourage him to talk. If he prefers to sit in silence, don’t intrude on his silence. Friends should call, bring food, offer to run errands, and do what needs to be done. A hug, a squeeze of the hand, a look which says, “I’m here, if you need me,” conveys more than a thousand words. (Abigail Van Buren quoted in Quotable Quotations 166 Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985)