Grief — A Forgotten Apologetic
Life is Roses
Christians are healthy, wealthy, and wise, right?
That’s the impression many non-Christians have. Whether that’s from seeing “prosperity gospel” false teachers on television, or observing conservative Christians leaving their homes on Sunday morning wearing their “happy clothes” and “happy face.” Either way, we’re good at giving the world the impression that life’s hard for the heathen and roses for the righteous.
No It’s Not
But that’s not true.
If the life of my extended family was turned into a television drama, although there’d be some wonderfully happy episodes, there’d be a significant number of story arcs that would leave the cast of characters wounded, including myself. Without giving it much thought, divorce, murder, abuse, suicide, terminal illness, mental illness, depression, and time in prison, immediately come to mind as possible lowlights. Were my family on the fringe? No, I don’t think so. Granted, I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, but almost all of you can recall the heart wrenching pain of grief and sorrow when similar tragedy struck you or your extended family.
That’s where it ends for many Christians though, isn’t it? I hope this isn’t you. Recalling the pain of grief, but quickly choosing to forget it. Delegating those memories to a dramatic mention in your pre-conversion testimony and then forgetting—ignoring—pain, sorrow, and grief in the present, now conforming to the mould of your healthy, wealthy, and wise community that you now call the church.
Between us, let me be the first to say it: life hurts. Life hurts so much sometimes that it has led this grown man to tears. It hurt before I was a Christian and it hurts now. Grief wasn’t washed away when my sins were. That’s why Paul commends us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Christians still weep, and not only tears of repentance. Even John Calvin, after the death of his wife wrote: “I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed with grief.”
Why Forgetting Grief is Bad
There are many reasons why ignoring grief and the pain of life is bad. Not the least of which is that we’d be faking it. And faking it is antithetical to Christianity. Christianity is all about getting real with God. Real about who you are and your sin. Real about who He is and His holiness. Real about the only way to reconcile the two: through Jesus Christ. Too many Christians are being crushed as church has become a show room for success stories instead of a hospital for the hopelessly helpless.
It’s an Apologetic for Christianity
However, today I want to consider another reason ignoring grief is a bad idea: pain and grief is an apologetic for the faith. Not apologetic in a literal sense of being a defense of the faith, but:
- a tool to confirm the truthfulness of Christianity,
- a reality best explained by Christianity,
- and a bridge to give us an ear for sharing Christianity.
1. A Tool to Confirm the Truthfulness of Christianity
To put it simply, it’s easy to believe in God when life is roses.
But when the waves of tragedy strike, followed by the ongoing pangs of pain and grief, it’s much harder to stay the course without a true anchor for the soul. If you’ve been in it for the gifts and not for the Giver of the gifts, you’ll be quick to hand back the trials that appear to you to be bags of coal.
Our faith looks genuine to an onlooker, not when we smile and believe, but when we suffer and amazingly still believe.
2. A Reality Best Explained by Christianity
I’m convinced the reality of grief is best explained by Christianity.
For the non-Christian, especially one who believes in evolution, life can’t be described as victories and tragedies but only as a random sequence of mere “events.” Death is simply the pronouncement of the fittest surviving. Nothing to cry about. If anything, a sign of evolutionary refinement.
However, the Christian expects pain and death, not as something “natural,” but as a violent intrusion. God has revealed to us that the very good world in which we live is fallen. With each experience of pain we hear an echo of God’s curse given in Genesis 3. As death strikes a loved one we’re reminded of the truthfulness of God’s warning, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).
Not only can we explain grief, we know the One who has defeated death and promises a time when: “He will wipe away every tear…and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4) This is why we grieve and the world grieves, but we don’t grieve as those without hope (1 Thes. 4:13).
3. A Bridge to Give us an Ear for Sharing Christianity
The shared experience of grief is often a natural and organic way to build bridges and develop meaningful relationships with non-Christians.
When you’re having parenting troubles, you don’t reach out to the one with no children. When a non-Christian is grieving, they don’t reach out to the “prosperity Christian” or the “happy face” Christian for answers or a shoulder to cry on. To walk a mile with someone you can’t be floating one foot off the ground.
It’s amazing how grief removes the veneer of life, allowing the deep issues of the heart to be exposed.
But Grief Makes Me Uncomfortable
Grief is hard to go through, and grief is hard to watch. But maybe the Lord will use this blog post to encourage you to be more attuned the next time someone you know is hurting.
But remember, if a work colleague shares that a relative has cancer, or that someone they know was killed in a car accident, or that they’re hurting for whatever reason, it’s okay to listen. It’s okay to understand. It’s okay to agree when they say, “it just doesn’t seem right.”
You don’t have to get defensive. Don’t attempt to prove God to be good by compensating their tragedy with the triumph you experience. Weep with those who weep. And pray that you’ll be able to share how you understand pain and grief, how you have walked through it, and how you know the One who is about the business of making all things new and wiping away every tear.