Recently a syndicated radio host lost his wife. It was hard to hear him speak over the radio when you knew that he was dying behind that microphone. He acknowledged many of his feelings over the airwaves, and with his deep yet soft voice, it was hard not to get pulled into the sorrowful emotion. A couple months had past since his wife’s passing and on January 2nd he touched on the topic of grieving with a couple studio guests and several listener call-ins. As I listened to this conversation, there were several points that were brought up that I found helpful when dealing with grief, but there were also several other points that were made that made me even more sad than when I first started listening.
The loss of someone we love is a terrible event to go through. How we deal with such an event can shape the rest of our lives. The logic we use for dealing with loss is of the utmost importance. Sometimes no matter how good the logic, we will still have to go through a time of intense suffering before we can come out on the other side, ready to help others who are dealing with loss. But the logic we use can either help us or hurt us during that time of grieving. I would like to address some of the logical points that were brought up in the show.
Grieving with God
The host acknowledged how important prayer was to him in his life, yet he found it very difficult to pray to Someone who was responsible for taking his beloved wife. This thinking is common and even understandable when we are trusting God to help us through our life, and then suddenly we have to trust God that it is best that our loved one be taken.
If I were able to address the host, I would have tried to console him with the following thoughts. Of course I would only offer these words once he was prepared to hear them.
1. God did not necessarily actively take your wife away from you. We live in a sin-cursed world. That means there will be many terrible things that naturally happen simply because this world is heading toward decay. Natural disasters and death are events that will take place because Adam and Eve’s sin started a destruction of God’s creation that has not fully culminated yet. Since we live in this decaying world, there are natural occurrences that will take place that God did not directly or actively ordain. These occurrences remind us that we are fragile, temporal, flawed, and in need of a Savior.
Too often we give God credit for all the bad things that happen in our lives, but rarely thank Him for the many wonderful experiences we have. If you were to have given thanks to God for every wonderful thing that happened in your lives, do you think you would have many more thanks to give than times of complaint?
2. God is the only reason we can experience peace even while going through loss. Dwell on this with me. If God is eternal, and if He received your wonderful wife into eternity, then where is your wife? That is right, she is in eternity. Do you know what that means? She will never die again. She is actively living life right now and is no longer suffering, and indeed, will never suffer again. If anything, she is sorry for you that you will have to be going through pain until you finally are ushered into eternity.
Yes, you may have to live a while without her. But she is no longer having to strive through this life. You rightly want to have her with you during the rest of your life, but know that God has received your wife into a place of love, freedom from pain, and fulfilled hope. Remember that this life is not all there is. There is eternity to look forward to. An eternity that is not ethereal as we commonly think of eternity, but physical as well as spiritual, yet infinitely better.
Because we live in a sin-cursed world, death and other disasters will happen. These again are good reminders of who we really are. We are not so great that we can avoid these occurrences. However, with God there is comfort.
3. When you are painfully reminded that your wife is no longer with you, I encourage you to pray your hurt the same way the author of Psalm 88 does. In his prayer, he never concludes any comforting thought. There are times when you may hurt so badly that you cannot think any comforting thoughts. However, I want you to notice two things. First, he actually does go to God in prayer. In verses 13-14 he says, “But I, oh Lord, have cried out to You for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before You. Oh Lord, why do You reject my soul? Why do you hide Your face from me?” There may be times when your pain is so great that you cannot feel God’s comfort. But do not stop going to Him. Secondly, the author starts the psalm correctly addressing God. He begins by saying, “O Lord, the God of my salvation!” So even though the author is going through immense pain, he still reminds himself that God is ultimately the One who will save him from both this temporary yet painful time and from eternal death. Always remember who God ultimately is to you: the God of your – and your wife’s – salvation.
4. Lastly, all these words of comfort can only be applied to people who have become followers of Jesus Christ. That is one reason why it is so important to recognize Jesus Christ in one’s lifetime. Christ rose from the dead. He is the only one in all of history who has demonstrated that death is not finally victorious. This is one reason why I urge people to follow Christ.
God allows death to remind us that we are not our own saviors. We will all perish. From all of time, everybody who ever lived did perish. But there is only One who on His own accord beat death. That is the Son who God sent to this earth to pay the penalty of the curse and strip the curse of death of its power. In Christ, there is victory over death. That is total comfort.
What about someone who passes who did not claim Christ in their life? Know this, that God is a perfectly just judge. He takes everything into account when judging. Know that you can trust God that He will make the right and just judgment. When we finally see His judgment, there will be nothing else to say, for all will have been said, all possibilities will have been taken into account.
(God’s just judgment is worthy of its own blog post. I would imagine that will happen sometime soon. Even quicker if people were to comment that they are interested in such a post.)
Grieving without God
I am always amazed when I hear people try to alleviate the grief of loss without God. For most of the show, God was not mentioned. The attempts at subsiding grief without God were always found wanting. Many times people would offer some words of encouragement only to have the host start his reply with, “But…”
Without God, there are no comforting words when a love one perishes that are not fictitious or devoid of reality. Trying to comfort people without bringing in God is like ignoring the elephant in the room. People have deep questions that need answering. Questions like, “Why do I grieve?” This is a great question. Why do people grieve when a loved one is lost? I submit to you that at least one reason is because that we were meant to live forever. We were not meant to die. When sin entered this world, we were cursed with having to deal with death, something that we were never supposed to experience. God created us to live forever. So we are at a loss as to how to deal with death. That is why we need God to more fully answer the questions we have about death.
If there is no God, then honestly answering the question, “Why do I grieve?”, is rather awkward. The answer to that would include something about how it is a survival mechanism. We grieve when death occurs and so we never want to experience death again, so we try our hardest to avoid death. This is an incredibly shallow response. We grieve for reasons far too complex than preservation. We grieve because we have lost something. Not just anything either. We have lost something that should never be lost.
If we were honestly trying to comfort people from an atheistic perspective, we would tell the person grieving that the collection of atoms that was your loved one finally could not operate together anymore. Your loved one’s borrowed atoms will dissipate into another form of matter. You did not lose anything because there was really nothing behind your loved one to lose. Your loved one’s existence was nothing more than a collection of complex chemical reactions. There is no soul, no eternal existence, no dance to perform in the hereafter.
The above paragraph just does not plumb the depths of our being. We must include the eternal in our conversation on death because we each feel the weight of it. As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Indeed, we were made for an eternal world. This world is passing away. But fear not, Christ has overcome and will create a new heavens and earth.