The older I get, the more emotional I have become. I have always been a bit of a stoic but, now children’s stories and sermon illustrations easily choke me up. I try to pass these episodes off as dramatic pauses, but in reality I can’t read The Three Trees or Papa Panov’s Special Day or recount poignant sermon illustrations without turning into an emotional mess. As I reflect on why this is, I have come to believe that with more of life’s water under the bridge, those stories and illustrations bear a strong resemblance to my own stories and my own grief – grief over opportunities and people lost and grief over my callousness to God’s grace and insensitivity to His presence.
But I have also come to understand that grief is a normal part of life. Though it often takes us by surprise, it is not unexpected. The longer we live, the more grief we live with. Grief is not contrary to faith, nor a lack of faith. Indeed, Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. At the tomb of Lazarus and in the midst of the Triumphal Entry, “Jesus wept.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said that His soul was “sorrowful unto death.” And Jesus’ faith and knowledge were complete and He was in perfect communion with the Heavenly Father. Yet He was “acquainted with grief.” Grief is a part of life in this fallen world. Being a Christian does not change this, it only changes how we respond to it.
I appreciate the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3. He notes that life “under the sun” is a life with seasons.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; …
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; ….
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-10
There is a time to mourn, a time to grieve. But grief can be complicated. Each person’s “Tear Soup” requires different ingredients, different cooking times, and has unique complex flavors. Grief brings complexity to our feelings and to our faith. Grief challenges the clichés by which we live and confronts us with the God who IS, and not the God we imagined. But God has not left us without guidance for our grief. His Holy Spirit is often called, in Scripture, the “Comforter.” This Comforter inspired chosen men of old to give us words to speak, pray, and sing in the Psalms to teach us how to grieve. John Calvin famously noted, regarding the Psalms,
I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.
John Calvin, Preface to Commentary on the Psalms.
And we have many examples in Scripture of grief observed. Jeremiah’s emotional confessions and lamentations are potent examples. Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet.” As one commenter noted, he was “never a dispassionate observer of his nation’s sufferings, but entered into the anguish of the people and suffered with them…. [He bore] a message of divine judgement while at the same time sharing the sufferings of the people…. [He was a man] torn asunder between God and the people, to both of whom [he] was bound with deep ties.” (The Book of Jeremiah, J. A. Thompson)
In Jeremiah 8 and 9 we encounter the prophet in the depths of complex and conflicting grief over the sin and judgment of Judah. God has called us to draw near to observe his grief to instruct us how to grieve over the sin and judgment of our own time. In Jeremiah’s grief we see the necessities, complexities, expansiveness and available comfort for our grief – grief over our own sin and loss, and over that of our people.
Join us this Sunday, September 8, as we consider how the example of Jeremiah instructs us to grieve when it is a “time to mourn.” We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.