Summary: We can survive loss by allowing ourselves to grieve, by receiving God’s comfort and strength, and by trusting in God’s sovereign purposes.
As your pastor, I try to be as open and transparent as possible. I want you to know me well enough to see that the faith I talk about every week is real. And one of the ways you get to know someone is by asking what they like. Favorite food, favorite hobby. Favorite movie. So, in case any of you are planning to invite me to go see a movie in the near future, let me tell you what kind of films I enjoy. Science fiction. Action-adventure movies, if they’re not too violent. Comedies -- and not just sophisticated humor; I like the lowbrow, corny, slapstick stuff too. I’m not ashamed to admit that I thought "Meet the Parents" was very funny, especially the part where the cat got fried. I like old World War II films, like "Bridge On the River Kwai". I like quirky, offbeat independent films, and also foreign films, which I usually have to
see by myself, because my wife doesn’t "do" subtitles. And I like Jackie Chan movies. All of them. That little guy is amazing. So there you go. My psyche on a silver platter.
I don’t like horror movies or thrillers, I don’t like blood and guts, I don’t like tearjerkers, and I don’t like dramas where the plot revolves around one of the main characters dying, or suffering, or being abused. That’s not my idea of entertainment. If I want human tragedy, I don’t have to pay $7.50 to see it; I can just turn on the CBS evening news or C-Span.
But, unlike the world of the cinema, which is only entertainment, or at best art, in the real world we can’t avoid everything sad, or unpleasant. We can’t just change the channel or walk out of the theater when we come to the difficult parts. We can’t avoid them. We have to deal with them.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that God’s grace, and power, and love are more than sufficient to give us what we need to survive anything life throws at us. There is no pain so intense, no sorrow so overwhelming, no loss so devastating, that God cannot bring us through it. Listen to what Paul the apostle heard when his physical suffering became so intense that he cried out to God to remove it:
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." -- 2 Cor. 12:8-9 (NIV)
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." -- 2 Cor. 4:8-9 (NIV)
What does all this tell us? That God’s people are not immune from the bumps and bruises of life. I know. I live in the same world you do. Sometimes our lives feel like a World Wrestling Federation Smackdown, with one of those three-hundred-pound steroid-enhanced gorillas body-slamming us onto the mat and jumping up and down on our chest. We get knocked around just like anyone else. We feel pain. We experience sorrow and loss. We weep and mourn. But there is a difference between us and those who don’t know God. God promises us that he will bring us safely through every storm. He guarantees that nothing will ever happen in our lives that he can’t handle; that we can’t handle by his grace and by His power. And that assurance gives us hope when it looks like the bottom is falling out. It keeps us steady and confident when our world is shaking. It give us the kind of peace that can’t be faked, the kind of peace that can’t be explained as anything other than the supernatural work of God.
This morning, we’re going to look at the topic of ’Surviving Loss’. I’ll admit right up front that the topic is almost impossibly broad. Because there are so many different kinds of loss. There are losses in relationships -- people we love who die, marriage partners who abandon us, children who reject us, close friends who move away. There are personal losses, like injuries or poor health. Economic or financial losses; losing a job or career. Some losses are sudden; they come into our life as an unwelcome surprise. Other losses occur over time, such as a family watching their husband and father slowly slip away, as Alzheimer’s disease strips him of his memories and his understanding.
Given all that, is there anything I could possibly say in twenty-five minutes that would address all of these situations in a meaningful way? Yes. Because as varied as the kinds of loss are, there are some common Biblical principles which will help us to respond in a healthy and God-honoring way. First, we grieve. This may seem obvious, but many people seem to think that it’s somehow weak, or shameful, or even less than Christian, to grieve over a loss. As if expressing pain and sorrow would offend or surprise God. As if feeling sad, or weeping, or being depressed would be evidence of a lack of faith, or would make people think that their faith wasn’t "working". So instead, they suppress their emotions. They try to look like everything’s just fine. "No worries, mate". They put up a calm, cool, serene front, while inside, deep down,