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GriefMarch 31, 2020
Grief is real. Grief is our response to loss. The extent of grief in terms of time and the intensityof grief in terms of depth is connected directly to the nature and character of the loss. For example, Anne and I enjoy taking rides in our neighborhood on our golf cart. It is a time for us to enjoy being out, seeing others who are out, and having conversation with each other. Our golf cart has had some issues recently and we thought at first that we could not use it for a time. I felt that loss. I was sad. Ten minutes later I am on to the next thing. The grief was real but lasted briefly due to the nature and character of the felt loss. That is why, for example, when it comes to something as significant and sizeable as death that grief in terms of its extent and intensity is different depending on the loss. We all grieve the same, but we grieve differently due to the differences in our losses. We will grieve differently the death of an aged parent who has suffered for some time from both dementia and the ruin of physical disease than we do the death of a husband or wife taken from us suddenly and seemingly in good health prior to their death. The point is, however, that God has made us as human beings in His image in such a way that we do grieve.
I am watching grief happen before my eyes in these days. I want to help all of us see what it is and how it is happening in our lives. Grief flows normally this way: at first we deny the reality of the loss, then we begin to act as if we can fix it so that the loss is not real or that we can find a fast way to move on with out lives and when we can't, sadness or depression or darkness or despair descends. What follows often is really dependent on how God has made us. What I am about to say may be overly generalized but is still fundamentally true: introverts tend to fall into a time of deep depression and despair, insulating and isolating themselves from others while extroverts tend to outbursts of very irrational and non-specific anger. Someone might say about an extrovert who is grieving at this point, "they are mad at the world right now." Someone might say about an introvert at this point, "they seem to be doing ok, but they stay at home all the time and don't go anywhere." People can get stuck here for a long time. But eventually by God's grace find a way to acknowledge and to accept the loss and to move on with their lives. One of my colleagues who has worked often with people who grieve says that grief never really ends but is simply integrated into our lives as we move forward in living, and the best integration happens when we can take our loss and grief and let God use it to help others who have experienced loss and grief.
Here is what I am seeing right now right before my eyes and all around me: we are moving rapidly from this is not real to this will pass soon to this is real and it seems that it is going to stay around a lot longer than I want or thought it would. And it is this internal recognition followed by external acknowledgement that opens the door to the descending darkness of despair and depression. What we we to do? Let me reframe the question: what are we as children of God to do? We are to seize the day. We are to recognize the marvelous opportunity that God is giving us. We are to live in faith and not fear, we are to breathe hope and not despair, we are to give thanks and not to grumble, we are to rejoice in the good gift of God and His grace and not resign from living. And we can do all of that because life for us is not in the world or the things of the world. Life for us is found only in Jesus and in His faithfulness to us that compels us to live in faithfulness to Him.
We are to live in faith and not fear. Fear is motivated by doubt. Faith is motivated by Truth. Faith has a firm foundation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do we believe that Jesus was sent from God to fulfill all the requirements for us from God in order for us to be right with God and thus becoming the only person in all of history who could then satisfy the holy justice of God by giving Himself as a sacrifice on the cross and at the same time take upon HImself as our substitute the full force for us of the wrath of God against our sin? Do we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day so that He is the only one who can overcome our sin and has through His resurrection destroyed the power of death? Do we believe that Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father and rules over all things, even COVID-19? Do we believe that He is coming again to gather His Church so that His church will rule and reign with Him forever upon the new earth even as Jesus will bring perfect justice to all who have rejected Him? Here is the foundation for our faith. Faith also has a clear focus. Just believing is not faith. Just trusting is not faith. Just saying that there is a God is not faith. Faith is focussed on what God has done in Jesus Christ to save us so that our focus is on following Him as a part of body of believers who are following Him, all of whom are flawed and fallen but are day by day, and week by week seeking to be faithful to Jesus. Faith also gives to our lives a fullness. If faith were water in a glass, it would not just be the first drops or even the overflow as if we can fill up our lives with the things of this world and just add teaspoon of faith. No, Faith is the fullness of life. Faith is following Jesus in all that we are and in all that we do knowing that there is nothing in which we are involved that does not for us have the purpose of making Jesus known to others.
We live by faith. But we also live in hope. This hope is real. It is as real as the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection was the vindication that Jesus is the only way to God. It is the vindication of the cross of Jesus as the only way that sinners are saved and the primary mark of how we live in the world. The cross is an instrument of death. The cross was an instrument of death for the worst of criminals. To come to the cross to be saved by the blood of Jesus leads to a life marked by the cross. What does that life look like? it looks like death to the world and its ways and life found in Jesus alone. It looks like detachment from the things of this world in terms our our looking to them to give us any meaning; they can't. They won't. We look only to Jesus even as we know that living for Jesus in this world will lead to suffering for all and lots and lots of suffering for some. But we laugh at it because our hope is not in this world. It is beyond this world, out of this world, from the only world that has captured our hearts and minds. So, we weep over what is going on right now. We want it to go away. But we give thanks even in these circumstances and we rejoice. We rejoice because "though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed HIs Truth to triumph through us" (Luther) . . . "my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus' Name, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." So, grieve child of God. Weep in these days but through the grief, remember that we do not grieve as those who have no hope and our hope is not tied to anything or anyone in this world lasting. Rejoice and be excessively glad because the One who holds you will hold you forever.