Today is a hard day. I don’t want it to be – I’d rather be full of hope and joy – but the truth is that I am suffering. Everyone says that grief is like a spiral and that you keep coming back to the same places on your journey. To me, it feels more like labor contractions. The pain builds until you can’t imagine going on and then suddenly relief comes and life seems beautiful again. Then the pain starts to creep in and the cycle repeats itself over, and over, and over. The difference is that instead of the pains coming closer together, they slowly get further and further apart. As a Christian who hopes in eternal life, I sometimes feel guilty about dark days like this. It seems that if I really believe in eternal life, death should not cause such agony, but it does.
I have come to suspect, though that it is especially important for Christians to feel the sting of death because it is only by knowing the true weight of what Christ saved us from that we can be really grateful. Grief teaches us that this life that we live was meant to be different. It reminds us of the paradise of the garden in Eden where evil was unknown and death did not exist. It calls to mind Romans 5:12: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” It awakens deep gratitude for the hope of Romans 5:17 “But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” It causes us to yearn for a time when death will be no more.
Jesus, himself felt the pain of death even though He knew that He would conquer it and restore endless life to His people. The gospels recount several times when Jesus came face to face with loss and was deeply affected by it (whether it was because of His compassion for others, His own grief, His anticipation of His own death, or some combination of all of these). In Matthew 14:10-13 we are told that when Jesus heard about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, he felt the need to spend time alone. John 11:35 tells us that Jesus cried on his way to Lazarus’ tomb, even though he had just told Martha that her brother would “rise again.” The agony of death, the gut-wrenching sense that it was terribly wrong was not eliminated by Jesus’ knowledge that Lazarus’ death was not the end. Is it a surprise, then, that even after Jesus’ own death and resurrection, death remains terrible for His people? True, death is temporary and has already been conquered, but it was not supposed to happen – it is the result of a world that went wrong.
As a mother who desperately misses her daughter, I find great comfort in the account of Jesus’ response to death in Luke 7:11-16. The passage tells of a widow whose only son had died. When Jesus met the funeral procession coming out of the village gate and saw the widowed mother’s grief, “his heart overflowed with compassion” and he was moved to raise the young man from the dead. I cannot help but wonder if Jesus’ heart overflows with compassion as he sees me weeping for my child, longing to hold her again. I think that it does because Jesus is intimately acquainted with the pain of death. I believe that Jesus is still moved by grief.