ministry

When Grief Is Good

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Grief is an unwelcome guest that enters our lives unexpectedly and awkwardly overstays its welcome. But even this most awkward and unwelcome guest can open our eyes to the pain and suffering we have unwittingly been blinded to. It reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

When we read this short sentence, we may resonate with the words preceding the colon. In our pain, it can feel like God is shouting to us. Yet, don’t overlook the words that follow the colon. God uses our pain to rouse us, to stir our heart’s affections, to awaken our sensibilities.

This is precisely the point Lewis is making about our pain. The Lord uses our grief as a catalyst to bring about repentance, to achieve His purposes and to fulfill His plans.

God uses our pain to rouse us, to stir our heart’s affections, to awaken our sensibilities.

Grief is Good for Justice and Mercy

Intuitively, we understand that grief can spur us to action.

For example, can a homeless ministry really be effective if those ministering to the homeless cannot first grieve for them and lament the brokenness that has left these image-bearers destitute and without shelter?

Can those ministering to victims of human trafficking serve well if they have not first grieved deeply for victims and mourned the vile atrocities and heinous acts these women, children and men have endured at the hands of other human beings?

Can adoptive and foster parents begin to understand and love their children with an enduring love if they cannot first grieve with and for their children the brokenness and the circumstances that left them orphaned?

Could Abby Johnson, a former abortion worker, begin a ministry to other abortion workers — calling them out of the abortion industry and into life-affirming work — unless she had first grieved her own participation in the killing of human life?

My hand was still on the patient’s belly, and I had the sense that I had just taken something away from her with that hand. I’d robber her. And my hand started to hurt – I felt an actual physical pain. And right there, standing beside the table, my hand on the weeping woman’s belly, this thought came from deep within me: Never again! Never again. (Johnson, Unplanned)

And don’t forget that we were once without a home, without protection, orphaned, oppressed and voiceless. We were once the perpetrator, the oppressor, the tyrant and the murderer. But can any one of us truly repent of our sin and confess Christ as Lord if we have not first grieved our sin against Almighty God?

No. We must grieve, and we must let our grief be a tool in the hands of our good Father to forever change us for His glory, to shape us and invite us to participate in His kingdom work. Justice and mercy begin with grief – they must.

Grief, the Cross and the Resurrection

The ultimate example of the power of grief occurs at the cross. God the Father was deeply grieved by the sin in the world — so much so that he allowed his son to suffer in our place. Thus in Jesus’ suffering, we see the perfect example of the Father’s grief and what resulted from it. Andy Crouch says this about the cross:

The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion – not a doing but a suffering…Everything was at stake on the cross; everything depended on God, the one Jesus trusted intimately enough to call Father. (Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling)

The Father’s grief over sin led to a passion of love, from which justice and mercy flow. And, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that followed the cross that gives us hope to endure pain and grief, to carry out Micah 6:8, to pursue our kingdom calling come what may.

Crouch continues:

…God the Father did not abandon Jesus to death. From Jesus’ first followers to the present, Christians have celebrated the resurrection as God’s vindication of Jesus as his ‘well-beloved Son,’ as the assurance that Jesus really did win the victory over sin, including our own, and as the down payment on our own future life beyond death. All of these are obviously central to the meaning of the resurrection. But what has not been so widely commented on is the way that the resurrection was a culture-shaping event – in fact, arguably the most culturally significant event in history…It is fundamentally a statement of bald historical fact: the resurrection, if indeed it happened as Jesus’ followers proclaimed, changed more of subsequent human history, for more people and more cultures, than any other event we can name.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was an event that not only changed culture and eternity, but it also changes the way we respond after grief – with hope and endurance. This is what God invites us to participate in – the kingdom work of a resurrected Lord, one who overcame death and sin.

I thank God for His grief over His people, His creation, because it led to salvation, redemption and the hope of glory. In the same sense, God calls us to grieve first and then participate with Him in culture-changing, eternally-impacting work in which mercy and justice sing harmoniously.

Grief is never pleasant. It is never convenient. And it is often painful. But grief is good. Let the Father, the One you can intimately trust as Jesus does, lead you in your grief to see the work He has for you.

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Laura Thigpen

Laura Thigpen is an Administrative Assistant at SEBTS, a freelance writer and a pastor’s wife. She holds a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Mobile, and she is pursuing a MA in Professional Writing from Liberty University. Laura and her husband are adoptive parents, and they live in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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