Christianity, Grief, and Deep Suffering

February 18 2016

by Alexei Laushkin

There is one unifying problem that theologically conservative Christians in just about every culture struggle with: how to deal with grief, pain, and suffering. It’s odd for a tradition that devotes so many pages to the suffering of Christ to essentially learn very little about the nature of grief and pain.

The New York Times has this fantastic read on “Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me” (click here). The author, a 35-year-old female, has just been diagnosed with stage four cancer and has spent her life writing about Pentecostals. In that context death and grief is seen as a sort of failure of faith, and that failure is looked down on with some shame–like “this wasn’t supposed to be that way and you created it.”

Evangelicals have a lot of odd things to say about grief and pain: it’s God’s will, it’s part of a greater plan, he’s using it to draw me closer to himself. We say everything but give space for pain as pain. Grief as grief. Lament as lament.

This is a pretty pervasive problem. Songs of sorrow and lament are shied away from. Always upbeat, always positive. Don’t ask don’t tell, especially about personal suffering.

It ends up Evangelicals can deal with some things, but not others—and not within the Christian community. Have cancer, that’s pretty safe, have job loss, that’s fine. Personal woundedness and depression? Well, that’s pretty questionable. There’s just not context for grief and grieving well. It’s a funny reality for a tradition that includes the Psalms—an outpouring of lament—and a focus on the Passion—no cakewalk for our Savior.

Here’s some music that I think helps with self-reflected grief. Here’s one from Taize, a waiting for the Lord, like waiting for manna from heaven in a dry and thirsty land (click here). Here’s one from a Catholic artist in Poland a take on Lacrimosa (literally weeping) (click here). And this one, “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” from a friend and gifted worship leader Rachel Wilhelm written for this season of Lent (click here).

Grief is actually beautiful and a gift. Think of the absence of grief, which is silence, horrible silence and pain. With grief you get articulation, it gives some dignity and some space to simply be. To know one’s suffering and to name it well brings a kind of healing and peace. Some things in life are worth grieving and, while that aspect of faith is part of our heritage, it is deeply obscured in this moment in the life of the church.

So how do you grieve? And how can we learn to deal with grief with the sort of dignity and space it deserves? If Christ himself did not shy away from this expression of human life, than He surely gives us the space to grieve and be held and be comforted. Not in some disembodied way, but by entering into these frail jars of clay which are our lives, and bringing a tender kindness.

Why else would Revelation include the deeply personal act of wiping every tear from our eyes? Have you thought about how deeply personal, and intimate and tender that very act is?

Revelation talks about healing sorrow and pain and overturning the older order in all manners of ways. Is that not like a mother with a child? Is that not the comfort of a dad for his wounded son or daughter? And yet St. John in his gospel and in his letters prescribes this kind of way of being for us, a way of being present in grief that’s deeply personal.

Just as it is in heaven, let it be on earth. Amen.

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