Summary: We can deal with grief if we allow ourselves to recognize its complexity, if we accept the love of caring friends, and if we permit God to use the grief to change us.
They stood at the gravesite, looking at the flower-covered casket of their father. The committal service had been over for ten or fifteen minutes. Everyone else had gone back to the cars. But the two sisters stood there, lingering long, staring into space. Their faces were masks: no emotions, no feelings, it seemed. But I found out that some feelings were there. When I slowly approached the two of them, one of them turned on her heel and blurted out, "I’m not sorry to see him go. I don’t think I should be. He was hard on my mother, he was mean to me, I’m not going to miss him one bit. Goodbye and good riddance." At that the other sister just about went into shock, "Don’t say that. Don’t say that. You must not speak ill of the dead. You’re not supposed to feel that way about your own father. Please don’t say that."
Now I ask you, which of these sisters was grieving? Both of them? Neither of them? Which of them was on the way to spiritual health? The one who disliked her father and said so? Or the one who disliked being different and said so?
Grief is a very complex emotion. Some of us are in touch with real feelings when we grieve; in the midst of our grief, we get permission to feel something and to talk about it. We get a chance to get rid of some guilt.
Others, however, become afraid to feel. They find that when they grieve that they feel very guilty. Losing someone dear to us may drive us deep into despondency and depression, and not just the simple, ordinary kind of depression, but a guilty depression. A guilty grief.
Grief is indeed a complex emotion, and it is bound up with guilt. When we grieve, of course it is because we have suffered the loss of something or someone very important. But that loss, that grief is compounded by feelings of guilt. If that feeling lingers, if it won’t go away, that’s not healthy; that’s not what God wants for us.
There is a way to guiltless grief. There is a pathway through grief that is a gift from God, making us stronger and giving us freedom. I want us this morning to hear good news about guiltless grief.
The passage of Scripture I’m using today is a very rich one. It will require your best efforts. But it will reward you if you will work through it. I’m going to ask you to turn to II Corinthians 7:5-11 in your Bibles and to follow very closely. A very rich, demanding, but rewarding selection:
I need to spend just a moment to paint the background. The writer is Paul. The occasion of grief is his dispute with the church in Corinth. Paul had been greatly disappointed with this Corinthian church; it had developed all kinds of behavior problems. It was a church in which there were factions, cliques, parties, and divisions. It was a church in which dishonesty and sexual immorality ran rampant. And the contradiction in the Corinthian church was that the same folks who did all these things were also acting extra-holy. They exuded piety while at the same time they were ready to stab you in the back. Do you know the kind I mean? The kind who just love you in Jesus but hate your guts? The kind who with grinning faces say, "Bless your heart" but mean "Curse your hide"!
Well, Paul had been in conflict with these folks for a long time. He felt tremendous grief, because he had nurtured and built this church, and now it had turned against him. It had walked off and left him. He felt that an awesome grief experience.
But Paul had done something about that grief. He had taken action. He had sent the Corinthians a very severe letter. He had looked inside his own heart, he had listened carefully, and then had laid them out. After sending this stinging letter, he sat down to wait and find out what their reaction was. Grieving, as many of you know, usually involves a lot of waiting. Just plain waiting. That’s one of the things Paul had to do with his grief. Just wait.
But by the time Paul wrote the passage we’ve just read, he had had news from his co-worker, Titus. Titus had brought word that the Corinthian Christians had responded well to Paul’s letter. They had listened, and they were making some changes. They were reaching out to Paul. So Paul is now ready to complete his grieving. That’s what we are hearing in this passage Paul is completing his grieving and is teaching us what it is to achieve guiltless grief.