Today instead of doing ‘The Parable of the Painter Explained Part II” I want to write a special blog post.
In the last two weeks I have had two people close to me die, and each in their own way have had an impact in my life, and it has left me absolutely gutted by the loss of both of these men. I have experienced a whole new level of grief I have never ever felt before; it feels like my guts have been taken out and the empty space is collapsing in on itself like a vacuum inside of me which has left me with tears and felt heartache. It has left me concluding that this year and this month is indeed the worst time in my entire life.
But even though this has been the worst two weeks of my life there is a very real sense that, in the middle of all this pain, Jesus is with me. And I am so grateful for this. It doesn’t explain the “Why” question (As John Stott once said: “There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world”) but He does give me comfort in and through the pain.
Now I know some of you don’t believe in the Jesus stuff (and that’s just part of the process of chewing faith for yourself, and part of the role of this blog site is to help you ‘chew’). However I do, and I faithfully write what I write from the point of view that Jesus is real, that He did die and rise again and through this launch His project of bringing Heaven on Earth, and that He will wrap that project up fully when He returns. My role isn’t going to convince you that it’s all real, but just to write.
And today I am talking about my personal take on what it means to grieve with Jesus.
Because right now that’s what I need in this time of grief.
[Because of the sensitive nature of this post I will be treating it purely as my thoughts; as such I will use words like “I” as opposed to “we”. However my prayer is that my process of pain can help others as well.]
There is this event that happened in Jesus’ life in the first century A.D that talks about a time Jesus confronted and entered into the heartache that death brings. The event is in the Gospel of John chapter 11 verses 17 to 43. The passage opens up with Jesus being called to visit a friend’s grave, a grave of a man named Lazarus… <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11%3A17-43&version=MSG >
There are two people Jesus comforts during their time of loss- Martha & Mary. However the way He addresses the same loss differ between Martha & Mary dramatically. With Mary He comforts her & weeps with her, and with Martha He confronts her:
He tells her that He is The Resurrection & The Life! Jesus tells Martha that, because He- as the Saviour of the World- has arrived, she doesn’t have to wait until end of time to see the power of God raise Lazarus from the dead, she could see his resurrection right there and then. Jesus can raise people from the dead! And indeed part of Jesus’ whole mission was that of declaring in the form of the spoken word & in miracles that the reign of the good & loving God had arrived in Jesus. Now death, evil, suffering, injustice, chaos, would still exist until Jesus returned from Heaven a second time to this world, however (As seen later in this Gospel book) Jesus would defeat all death, evil, suffering, injustice, chaos in a unique way by dying on the cross & ultimately rising from the dead. Death would no longer have a grip on Him- because He would take on the agony & evil of death into Himself and win the battle against death through the blood & tears of the dark, twisted, and lonely cross. And so one of the ways Jesus shows His unique power over death in this event by confronting Martha in telling her that He has come to save the day. And save the day He did! He raises Lazarus from the dead! And as such for me, to know in my grief, that Jesus will raise my loved ones to glory at His coming is indeed beautiful (And to know that in the present “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”).
But then Mary:
Why did Jesus cry at the tomb when He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead? There’s a very simple reason why. Because death is bad. Losing someone is worth crying over. It didn’t matter whether Jesus would raise him from the dead at the end time or in the next minute: Lazarus was worth crying over. Loss is worth crying over, mourning over, weeping over.
I need to process and sit in pain with a God who holds me together and weeps with me. And so it is that Jesus- the world’s perfect man & God in the flesh- cried. Jesus ain’t a stoic person who just tells me to “remove negative thoughts”; no rather He is the Great Psalmist who lives out and prays out his grief and agony as a man acquainted with sorrow. Between now & what Jesus will do for people who love Him there can be a time for sorrow, a time for tears, a time for processing. It matters that Jesus will raise my loved ones from the dead one day, but that doesn’t remove the processing of pain & loss.
All this tells me something about what it means to respond to loss with Jesus.
I need the big picture AND I need to allow Jesus as comforter during the pain of loss.
I need the big picture of knowing that- one day- all who love Jesus will welcome His return with joy because He will wipe every tear, and pain, injustice, suffering, and evil will be completely done away with.
“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.” (Rev 21:3-5 MSG)
Even death itself will die. And I can have confidence in this because of the unique way Jesus defeated death.
But I need Jesus as comforter as well, for He promises to be with the broken hearted. To mourn with those who mourn & weep with those who weep. To process through pain. He is my great Psalmist who, like the writers of the Psalms, uses psalms that speak of tears & agony over what is real heart ache.
But to only have the big picture without the comfort means it’s possible to become stoic and detached from real pain & suffering. I can’t simply brush off the pain by saying things like “He’s gone to a better place” or “There is a bigger plan” whilst I bite my quivering lips and squish the tears down. Now it’s true that the people who I lost have gone to a better place and that the best is yet to come, but times in the here & now are hard and need to be processed with family, friends, and faith.
But to only have the comfort without the big picture gives no meaning to life.
Without the big picture all that would be true is that all people simply take their first birth, live, and then take their last breath; all come from oblivion with no divine purpose and all go into oblivion with no divine purpose, thus existence is a joke in a universe will no purpose or meaning. That might sound heavy to say, however I do believe I am laying out the natural implications of a purposeless universe, which if people do take the belief in a purposeless universe to its logical implications does come out the other end as dismal. In a purposeless universe, bodies are just animated pieces of meat which exist in a blip of existence. People might think one can make their own meanings, but their own meanings they make would only be by-products of random chemistry of the brain, and if that’s true (that people’s brains are only chemicals & muscles) then even people’s own self-made meaning collapse in on themselves into meaninglessness once again as the very building blocks of people’s self-made meanings turnout to mean very little as well. But deep down people know that isn’t true; people do believe in meaning, purpose, love, truth, even if their own worldview categories can’t make sense of it. There is more to life than living, breathing dying. There is a big picture.
And Jesus is the big picture.
I need the big picture and I need Jesus as comforter- and that’s the lesson of grief I learn from this passage (And pray you too learn).
Processing all of this loss will not be easy, however I’ll process with tears whilst having the big picture of knowing that those I have lost are now part of something bigger & better, and are both destined for even more when Jesus returns to defeat death and bring His Heaven fully on Earth…
And that the people I miss will, like Lazarus, rise again. And me, and others around me, are left processing through the pain.
And both are okay.
Both are needed.