Reflections on Grief

angel-of-griefThough I have often vicariously experienced the pain of loss through various authors’ lamentations, nothing, however, so teaches like the reality of firsthand loss—when that looming shadow that is cast over all our lives is brought painfully and suddenly to the present through the loss of someone we love.

In these times, all intellectual questions about the nature of pain and suffering are presently brought to our mind, yet they are now caught up and entangled with the knowledge and experience of our humanity—we are deeply aware of our lack of answers as we are flooded by overwhelming emotion- like when a stubborn child, who normally is ambivalent to his mothers constant presence, becomes lost and, consequently, desires above all things the embrace of his mothers arms, so we to in the midst of emotional grief long for an embrace that will grant hope amidst the stream of tears.

Because we are who we are—that is because we are human we desire comfort precisely because we need comfort.  Our desires are congruent to a true fact that describes who we are—we are people whose subsistence is derived from something outside ourselves.

There is no experience quite like loss, pain, and death that gives us a more real capacity to understand the often (deeply ignored) fact that we live move and have our being not of our own accord, but through Him who gives life.  In the death of those we love, the reality of our finitude jolts us—even if only for a time—out of our complacency and reduces us to what we truly are: whimpering children in need of something outside ourselves to comfort us in the midst of deep sorrow.

Some have said that “God” is merely our sorrowful “wish fulfillment”.  He is the one whom we have created to comfort us—a sort of psychological blanket to cover our deeply felt despair.  However, suffering is adverse to humanity precisely because we believe in an objective Good—indeed, there is no meaning to the words ‘suffering’, ‘pain’, or ‘evil’ without latent ideas of Good.  The very meaning of these words presupposes a standard to reality.  Something is outside us giving us an “ought’ in life.
Just as the sun gives a glimmer of morning light before it shines blazingly in the day, so this true understanding gives us a glimmer of real hope that slowly begins to shine brightly amidst the steady stream of sorrowful tears.  It is an odd paradox: suffering exists only because Good is real.

And though we live in this world filled with tragedy, the fact that ‘tragedy’ can mean ‘tragedy’ smuggles in this gloriously hopeful truth that reality at its core is a joyous Comedy.  Our hearts are awakened and the Comedy of the world shines brightly—the sun has risen giving life to the flowers that bloom.  Spring has returned on this day and that which has died is resurrected to life.  We see that the world is filled with truth and meaning; it gives us—even if only a shadow—a picture of true reality—“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face, now we know in part, but then we will know fully just as we also have been fully known.

A world where suffering actually happens is also a world that presupposes happiness, goodness, and truth.  Living in a world that has meaning is living in a place where things do not happen randomly.  Our choices do matter, and do have consequences.  God cannot be our wish fulfillment for why would we wish for anything without meaning?  And, meaning surrounds us.

In this fallen world to love anything is to risk pain and loss.  When we put our hearts in something we are by that act opening our hearts to the severity of grief.  It might be thought that we should only give our hearts, our love only to God because He is the one who will truly satisfy, one who will truly never change.  But we follow One who gave His life to gain our love.  Yet instead of falling at his knees and embracing the love he extends, we rejected His love.  And yet He shows his love for us in that while we are still sinners He dies for us.  Far from merely experiencing heartbreak for us rejecting His love, He surrendered himself to death to reconcile us and establish the ability for us to love Him.  Thus, we do not have insurances against heartbreak:

There is no safe investment. [Like Christ shows us as he weeps over Jerusalem and also in the garden of Gethsemane] To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (Lewis, The Four Loves).

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love.  You asked for a loving God: you have one.  The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artists’ love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes…it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes.  It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring…

for we are, not metaphorically, but in very truth a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character…it is natural for us to wish that God has designed for us a less glorious and less arduous [painful] destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf word (Lewis, the Problem of Pain).


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