Sometimes death comes without warning... No time to prepare or process … one minute it was everyday life; within shocking seconds, everything has changed. Each breath requires intentional will power and the thought of physically surviving the crushing grief for even the next 24 hours seems impossible. There is disbelief that it has happened but a horrible fear that this is for real. The loved one is gone.
When this happens, we are not interested in some fancy, intellectual answer as to why God might permit suffering. We want to know the actual reason why God let this particular event happen. More importantly, it feels as though our heart has been torn out and we desperately need healing. Some refer to this as “the emotional problem of evil”.
A simple online search for “coping with grief” yields an enormous amount of advice, much of which I have found helpful in my own life. However, the two most powerful and important things that have helped me more than anything else are almost completely absent from these resources, so I share them with you here.
The Good Shepherd
I have not found, nor have I ever heard of a way to simply make grief vanish, but I have found it to be of enormous help to have someone who is with me day and night, and who can pick me up and carry me through the darkest times of life. I am speaking of the Good Shepherd. There are times when all I have been able to do is simply recite the 23rd Psalm and let the words surround me, especially the lines,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.1
To know that, even in times of greatest sorrow, I am never alone, means the world to me. In the midst of agony, the presence of God is with me … and can be with you too through Jesus Christ. Jesus said,
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.2
It helps to be totally honest with God. Tell him exactly how you feel and what you are going through. He already knows, of course, but there is healing in talking to him, and he loves you to do it.
C.S. Lewis on the Death of His Wife
After the death of his wife just three years after their marriage, C. S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed. It is a short, deeply moving account of how Lewis coped with his grief in the days and months following her death, often written in the present tense. The opening paragraphs are brutally honest. Many have been helped by his honesty, including myself. Towards the end of this short book he writes,
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ … Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.3
There could not be a better Good Shepherd … one who knew you before the creation of the world, who loves you beyond your ability to conceive, and who will pick you up and carry you in his arms during those times in your life when you are so devastated that you can’t see how you can possibly make it through another day. You must be willing, however, to put your faith in him.
An Eternal Perspective
Knowing that I was created for something vastly greater than just this short life has been a powerful comfort to me. Some would say that the explanation for belief in eternity is simply wishful thinking, but I think it is the other way around. It is the reality of eternity that is the source of the deep craving within us … an eternity of unimaginable beauty that we have been created for and that gives this brief mortal life meaning and purpose. As C.S. Lewis put it …
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing … I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.4
As Lewis suggests, the primary mission in this life is to prepare for eternity and help others do the same. Everything else is part of that process, good or bad … and there can be extended times in life that God refers to as a “refining fire” to burn away the dross, leaving behind pure gold, so-to-speak. Those times can last for weeks, months, or years.
I have found rest, peace, and healing in knowing that everything in this world can be taken from me — except God's promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. In the midst of suffering and grief, when all I can do is pray, “God help me make it through this day,” I know that when this life is over, it will seem like a dream I cannot remember.5 But it will all have been for the purpose of preparing for everlasting life and helping others do the same. It will be a world where not the tiniest evil, injustice or suffering ever occurred, nor ever shall … a world where there is not even the memory of evil. A world of unleashed beauty, power and “every good thing given and every perfect gift.”
Learning From a Blizzard
One afternoon, around the age of 15, I was returning on foot directly into a wind of about 80 km/hour to our farmhouse in a blizzard where the temperature was almost 40 degrees below zero. After about an hour of slogging through knee-deep snow, face turned sideways to shield it from a wind that could freeze exposed skin in less than 30 seconds, and using all my energy to keep warm, I was totally exhausted. I experienced an almost overwhelming desire to just lay down in the snow and sleep, but I knew it would kill me. I kept thinking of how good it would feel to open the back door of our house and step into the warmth, and this anticipation kept me going. I barely made it the final 400 meters, but I finally stepped through that door into delicious warmth.
There are times in my life when all that keeps me going is knowing that no matter what happens in this life, no matter what I have to suffer or what losses I may incur— even if I lose everything that is dear to me — it will be so worth it in the end. It all had a purpose, even if at the time I could not imagine what it could possibly be. Eternity is the goal; this life is the preparation.
The Good Shepherd and the assurance of an eternal existence that is beyond our ability to imagine have been the two things, beyond all others, that carry me through the darkest and most desolate times of life. As God said,
Things which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.2
- New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ps 23:4). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
- New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 11:28–30). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.
- C.S. Lewis,Mere Christianity.
- Isaiah 65:17
- New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Co 2:9). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.