religion

How Much Grief is Too Much?

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As I’ve read the news this week, there have been two notable people that have committed suicide. As a former detective and crime scene investigator in law enforcement, I have been involved in the investigations of numerous suicides and dealt with the aftermath of grief and loss they cause to family and friends. Although I always use scripture to help us understand life and it’s many experiences, I also have the perspective to speak on this matter from an investigative perspective. I want to note first, however, that this is not an article about suicide prevention. It is about dealing with grief and suffering and how to do so through Christianity. If you, or someone you know, is suicidal, get help immediately by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Every life must be valued and preserved, even through the darkest hours some will face.

I am a big fan of the rock band Rush. Yeah, I know, ministers are supposed to listen to hymms and Christian radio stations all day. There is some secular music out there, though, that is quite impactful. Two of their songs come to mind about the issue of dealing with grief. The first, “The Pass”, is a song about a friend committing suicide. In the song, the chorus says, “All of us get lost in the darkness, dreamers learn to steer by the stars; all of us do time in the gutter, dreamers turn to look at the cars.” It serves as a reminder to me that we will all face hardship and grief in our lives. In their pantoum song “The Larger Bowl”, we’re reminded that joy and sorrow are not evenly divided in the world: “Some are blessed and some are cursed, The golden one or scarred from birth, While others only see the worst, Such a lot of pain on the earth.” Sadly, the author of the lyrics, drummer Neil Peart, lost his then-19-year-old daughter to a car accident in August 1997. He lost his wife to cancer 10 months later.

Why such unequal distribution of joy and pain in life? Don’t the “good guys and good gals” always win? In Job 4:6-8, Job, who is suffering openly, is told by his friend, Eliphaz, “You’ve been hit hard and you’re reeling from the blow. But shouldn’t your devout life give you confidence now? Shouldn’t your exemplary life give you hope? Think! Has a truly innocent person ever ended up on the scrap heap? Do genuinely upright people ever lose out in the end?”

Yes.

Life is tough. The Bible guaranteed it. In Genesis 3:17-19, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God said:

“The very ground is cursed because of you; getting food from the ground Will be as painful as having babies is for your wife; you’ll be working in pain all your life long. The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you’ll get your food the hard way, Planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk, Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.”

I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, “Where’s the comfort part of this? All you’ve talked about is how people will suffer.” The comfort part is coming. It absolutely must be established first that we are guaranteed to suffer some in life. It must also be established that there is no equal distribution of suffering amongst people in the world. While I put this article together, people are dying, starving, and hurting. I have suffered in life, both physically and emotionally. They are guarantees; the only variable is how much is bestowed upon whom. Job 21:23-24 says, “Some people die in the prime of life, with everything going for them—fat and sassy. Others die bitter and bereft, never getting a taste of happiness.” Once we understand that nothing is guaranteed in life, it becomes a bit easier to accept life as it is. I’ve seen cases where babies were still-born and cases where people lived to be nearly 100 years old. My great-grandfather lived to be 99 years and 11 months old (I guess the idea of being 100 just didn’t suit him). I’ve had money and not had money. I’ve been healthy and been sick. I’ve loved and lost family and friends. So have we all.

In his sickness, Job could have easily lost faith in God and blamed him for his suffering. Job 2:7—10 said:

“Job was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. They itched and oozed so badly that he took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself, then went and sat on a trash heap, among the ashes. His wife said, ‘Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!’ He told her, ‘You’re talking like an empty-headed fool. We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?’ Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God.”

This is tremendously important to understand. We will all be sick someday. We will all die someday. We will all lose someone we love someday. Job was sick almost beyond comprehension, and he still maintained his faith in God. He went on to ask many questions of God as to why he had suffered so much, and they were later answered by God, who accepted Job as a believer. God told Job to trust in his plan for the universe and for everyone and everything in it, and Job did, and went on to live a rewarding life filled with a beautiful family.

I’ve found that when grief and tragedy strike, people come around that rarely ever do otherwise. They come to funerals, religious services, and social gatherings. Their intent is usually to pay respects to the person that has passed away or to comfort those that remain behind. Some, however, judge and belittle the grieving. This is exactly what happened to Job when he became ill. Job’s friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite each came to him to tell him what to do to ease his suffering, each misrepresenting God and his true mercy. This often still happens today; people come to us in times of grief and tell us what we should do. Most are well-intentioned, but leave shortly after, rarely seen again until the next event calls them back to deliver their sage-like wisdom about what we ought to be doing and their prognostications about the outcomes.

True friends don’t do this. True friends are there with you during the good times and the bad times. True friends don’t tell you what you’ve done wrong, or are doing wrong, during times of grief and suffering. True friends go through it WITH you, not beside you. They are not just empathetic, they are sympathetic, and will love you unconditionally. They will strengthen your faith in God and his purpose for you, not seek to diminish it. And they will be there long after the moment to sustain you for a lifetime.

Dr. Eric Thomas has said on many occasions that on the other side of pain is reward. When we deal with grief and tragedy, there is a strength that can only be earned on the other side of it. It makes us stronger because we know we can survive through our faith in God and his plan for our lives and the lives of others. We will all have to suffer in some way; it’s our faith in God that makes us capable of enjoying the good times and enduring the tough times. Just remember that every destination has to have a journey, and some part of you will be stronger at the end of your trials and tribulations.

When we do as Job did, and put our faith in God during both the good and the bad times, he will also sustain us. Jeremiah 32:27 reminds us: “I am GOD, the God of everything living. Is there anything I can’t do?” No, there isn’t. He can do it all.

Never forget that God is omnipresent and always with us. He is also always accessible through prayer through his son, Jesus. 1 Peter 4:12-13 comforts us by saying, “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”

Whatever your grief, whatever your trial, whatever your loss, I urge you to place your faith in God and his plan for you. I can’t assure you it will be easy, but I can assure you that through belief and faith, you will be sustained emotionally by God throughout your journey. He has assured us that he loves us and wants us to be with him in the Kingdom of Heaven one day, and through our belief in him, our worldly pain will one day be gone, forever changed into a perfect eternal life with Him in Heaven.

May God bless you, now and always.

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