God And Your Grief

Do you ever wonder if God cares?

I’ve never questioned God’s existence—too many divine encounters have occurred in my life to undermine my belief in God.

But this week has knocked me off-center a bit.

Six months ago a woman in my small group community died of breast cancer. She was in her late forties and left behind an adoring husband, three beautiful daughters, and one granddaughter. The recovery from the jolt has been hard on everyone–especially the family.

Then Tuesday, the oldest daughter—only 20 years old—died unexpectedly. She left behind a three year old daughter and a devastated family.

Tuesday morning walking down the hospital corridors toward the young girl’s room, I looked up and blurted, “God, are you kidding me?!?”

Where Is God In Your Grief?

Dealing with hard news like this isn’t easy for anyone. And growing bitter against God is understandable. I’ve long believed that the challenge in moments like these is to hold three characteristics of God in tension:

  • God is all-powerful
  • God is all-wise
  • God is good

If one of the above statements is false, then God is off the hook—except for the “good” part. What if God isn’t good? What if he allows bad things to happen to good people for no good reason? At the moment I’m wrestling with the goodness of God—yet deep inside I also know that he only works good in the lives of the people who love him.

Here’s how I’m processing through the tragedy of this week.

Here is a photo of me when I was child. What can it tell you about me?

I was a pretty cute kid!

You can tell I’m riding a horse, so I must be living on a farm

You may even extrapolate that I’m a country boy, to quote the late John Denver song.

Actually, I was living in urban Denver at the time. A man was going door-to-door through our neighbor offering to take photographs of children sitting on his pony, for a price of course.

That photo is snapshot of one moment in my life—and a far cry of what I’m really like. But if that was the only way you knew me, it would give you a false sense of who I really am.

In the same way, every moment is a snapshot of God’s interaction with us. But all of us know that a single snapshot cannot define a person. And one snapshot cannot define the totality of God’s character. A photo album does a much better job of expressing the person’s life. Yet still, photo albums have limitations. Perhaps significant photos are missing. And how can we still know what the person is really like inside?

This is a start, but I’m interested in reading your thoughts.

(Please keep the family in your prayers. The memorial service is Saturday morning.)

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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15 responses to “God And Your Grief

  1. Georgie-ann

    Oh, how terribly sad and difficult, and I just wanted to offer condolences right away. I have a few things coming up on my immediate schedule, but I will certainly be keeping you and the family in thoughts and prayers.

    A couple of thoughts came to mind quickly:

    My beloved father was a suicide close to my 7th birthday. He was almost 33. I have never “been the same,” but I cannot say that that is a bad thing all in all, even though I suffered a lot, personally and emotionally, as you can imagine. Since my father became the unattainable “thing” that I wanted to “have,” and this life could no longer ever provide that for me, — (I was old enough to understand that very clearly), — I began a “search” in my heart that led me to a very close relationship, and many “consolations,” with God, and hope for the “afterlife.”

    The healings and re-integrations that came may seem to have taken a long time, if I would assign dates and times to the process, but in fact, the journey itself, over all, was very compelling, very interesting, very deep, and very rewarding. Many “blessings” came my way that could not have been predicted or foreseen. Our sufferings in these things feel as if they will tear us right apart, but we discover that we are actually made of more enduring “stuff” than we could have ever imagined.

    God IS all-wise: He tells us about ALL of these things ahead of time, and has given us good promises to go along with them:

    John 14:15-18 [Jesus Promises Another Helper]

    15 “’If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU ORPHANS; I will come to you.'”

    I also think that our relatively prosperous and safe culture, leaves us very unprepared for these kinds of untimely disasters. We don’t have much preparation, or expectation, and our whole mind-set is caught “off guard.” A thousand questions, “if onlys” and “who knows?” — and then the quantum leaps to “God.” The truth is, — amidst a thousand variables, — that what has happened, has happened, and things are “out of (our) control.” In panic and desperation, we are grabbing at conceptual straws and “quick answers,” which combined with our heightened emotions threaten to become locked-in as our future mind-set. And this could be very troublesome.

    Better to calm the mind. Remember God’s love. Remember that THIS life, here and now, IS problematic. God has told us so, and explained that, here and now, we face an enemy who would be only too happy to destroy our souls. How are the ways he can do this, and how we can protect ourselves, is not a “perfect science” for any Christian I know. We just “do our best” and keep praying and keep trying.

    The best thing we can do with the present and the future is to put it and ourselves “in God’s hands,” — we can give Him our sorrows and our honesty. The Catholic Church has a very comforting focus on The Communion of Saints, both living in the here and now, and those who have “gone on.” We are united in Communion, and can certainly be praying for one another.

    My little Baptist grandmother, Ina Viola, taught me The Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven…,” close to the time of our disaster. Her quiet strength, faith, and calmness remain imprinted in my heart, soul and mind, to this very day. (And I’m almost as old now, as she was then!)

    These are bitter sufferings. Jesus suffered bitter sufferings, and understands the pain and unfairness on such a broad scale, that we can at least be glad that we’ll never have to “touch” that much. Is it “redemptive?” Does it have a greater purpose than our simple unblemished (and perhaps unrealistic?) temporal happiness would have accomplished? Was it an unseen blessing for Jesus, innocent, to suffer so deeply? I think we can assume a “yes,” even though we can’t really understand it at all, at this point.

    God IS Good. The enemy unfortunately is a merciless and relentless vacuum cleaner, creating evil vortices and poisons to create harm and difficulties for those God has created and loves. But even at the moment of untimely earthly death or finality, God can rescue and receive as His own, the perfect essence of the beloved soul He has created, and keep safe that which we experience as “gone.” Ours is the illusion. God’s realm is the permanent.

    Do not give up hope. In our “affliction” we may feel that we have been singled out for a special “punishment,” but in fact, it may turn into a “special blessing:”

    Psalm 30:5 “For His anger is but for a moment, but His favor is for a lifetime or in His favor is life. WEEPING MAY ENDURE FOR A NIGHT, BUT JOY COMES IN THE MORNING.”

    I’ve been looking for a verse I have yet to find, but below are a couple that have comforted and reassured me over the years, through various “experiences.” I feel so blessed at this point, that I would hate to call them a “nasty name,” (as I might have wanted to, at one point!).

    Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

    aside: (So, maybe another important question about God is: Is He Truthful? He tells us He cannot lie. In my book, He is True, and satan is the liar.

    Hebrews 6:17-19

    17 “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
    19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, … ” )

    verses, cont.:

    James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

    Isaiah 54

    1Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.

    2Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;

    3For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.

    4Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

    5For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.

    6For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.

    7For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

    8In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.

    9For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.

    10For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.

    11O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

    12And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.

    13And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

    14In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.

    15Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

    16Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.

    17No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.

  2. Georgie-ann, I’m so sorry to read about the grief you experienced as a child. Jesus was correct in his assertion that “In this world you will have tribulation.” But the promise of hope that followerss of Jesus have is that Jesus has overcome the world. This isn’t the final chapter. Nevertheless, the pain my family friends are feeling is severe. Fortunately, they know the hope that goes beyond the grave.

    • Georgie-ann

      We can always be thankful for family, church family and friends who stand with us in our times of need. The Body of Christ is a blessing for us in this way. Have faith and hope, and follow love as much as possible. Christ is our Light, and He will be a lamp unto our feet, lighting our way, though we struggle to find it. God Bless.

      • Georgie-ann

        Troubles such as these, unwanted, do teach us how precious and valuable and irreplaceable each and every God-breathed, God-created and God-designed life is. We are special and holy creations, coming from and belonging to the Creator, but seldom do we really realize just how much this is so. Truthfully, although Godly self-respect is a good quality, we do not even belong to ourselves. We belong to God, each and every one.

        Life IS precious,… always to be “handled with care,”… sometimes our trials bring us to see this more deeply, about ourselves and others,… and God will use us in His plans, and what seem to us to still be “mysteries,” as they continue to unfold,…

        Once upon a time, God told me: “Everything that hurts you, hurts me.” I don’t know why I found that to be so surprising, but I’ve come to believe that it is so, and over time have come to feel so much closer to His personal Love and Understanding and Faithfulness to/for me,… and if for me, also for others,…

        God loves us.

  3. elna

    “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”—Romans 8:28.
    “UPON some points a believer is absolutely sure. He knows, for instance, that God sits in the stern-sheets of the vessel when it rocks most. He believes that an invisible hand is always on the world’s tiller, and that wherever providence may drift, Jehovah steers it. That re-assuring knowledge prepares him for everything. He looks over the raging waters and sees the spirit of Jesus treading the billows, and he hears a voice saying, “It is I, be not afraid.” He knows too that God is always wise, and, knowing this, he is confident that there can be no accidents, no mistakes; that nothing can occur which ought not to arise. He can say, “If I should lose all I have, it is better that I should lose than have, if God so wills: the worst calamity is the wisest and the kindest thing that could befall to me if God ordains it.” “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” The Christian does not merely hold this as a theory, but he knows it as a matter of fact. Everything has worked for good as yet; the poisonous drugs mixed in fit proportions have worked the cure; the sharp cuts of the lancet have cleansed out the proud flesh and facilitated the healing. Every event as yet has worked out the most divinely blessed results; and so, believing that God rules all, that He governs wisely, that He brings good out of evil, the believer’s heart is assured, and he is enabled calmly to meet each trial as it comes. The believer can in the spirit of true resignation pray, “Send me what thou wilt, my God, so long as it comes from Thee; never came there an ill portion from Thy table to any of Thy children.”

    “Say not my soul, ‘From whence can God relieve my care?
    Remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere.
    His method is sublime, His heart profoundly kind,
    God never is before His time, and never is behind.'”
    My daily dose op Spurgeon!! for today…;)) …serendipitious…
    One of the nicest verses in Jeremiah and one that really got me thinking was :Jer 10:24 and Spurgeon also touches that…we need to trust God that what happened to us was the softest most gentlest happening that could achieve the necessary result…because God is good, and His goodness last forever.

  4. Greg Mann

    I remember once, hearing an anecdotal story about a child and a parent who were each praying over the family dog who had been hit by a car. The dog was badly hurt, and so the parent silently prayed for the dog to pass quickly and painlessly. Meanwhile, the child silently prayed for their dog to live. It would not be possible to answer either prayer, without someone being disappointed. I believe God answers prayer according to the knowledge of many things we cannot possibly know. What I do know is that in retrospect, God has always provided, and that times of great sorrow have often lead periods of great growth.

  5. carri

    Great post Mike in the midst of what is happening. As you know from hearing my story, I experienced 3 deaths in my family in 1 year’s time at the tender age of 8- beginning with grandma (dec. 73.) then my mom (july 74), and then my grandpa (dec. 74)…….. yes 1974 sucked!!!

    It’s interesting now to hear from those in my life who were adults at the time this happened to me. They now admit that they thought it would ruin my life and how relieved they are now to see not only did I survive but I thrived-considering the trauma that happened to me with little to no support from my human father to help me through my grief (to be fair my father was deep in his own grief ). The night my mother died I literally cried out to God, ‘You are going to have to take care of me if I’m going to survive in this family!’ (I often marvel that I knew at such a young age that I was not going to be well taken care of).

    So when I heard the news about the death of our friend’s daughter who left behind a precious 3 yr old, at that moment, just as I had as a little girl, I put God on notice. Although her untimely passsing makes no sense to any of us, I take great comfort in knowing that just as God lovingly and graciously brought me through unspeakable grief, I know He will do the same for this little one and her entire family even if we cry out to Him in anger, shock, and disbelief. God is INCREDIBLY faithful!
    PSALM 10:14
    “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
    The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.”

  6. Kathleen Claire

    May God meet you in your grief and pain, and may he carry you like the words in the “Footsteps” poem. I don’t know how we ever get through these very difficult times in life except for the loving grace and all-knowing love of God. His ways are not our ways. And until you see your friends again on the other side of this world. Take good care and realize all moments are fleeting. But God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And He’s way too big to fit into some box any of us can define. Enjoy the moments — they are all fleeting. You and yours are in my thoughts and prayers. Rest well. Sleep extra. Drink lots of water to nourish your body and in all ways, praise God.

  7. John and Margaret Moyer

    We lost an adult son, age 23, nineteen years ago. He fell skiing, suffered irreversible head and brain injury. God in His Wisdom and Soverignty “coaxed” us in some mysterious way to donate Andy’s organs. Meeting the organ receipients thru the years has cushioned the loss, seeing three men leading quality lives because of the science of organ transplantation that God has authored.
    Not all families get this opportunity, making something special out of something that our earth brains see as senseless. His ways are not our ways is the only way I can reconcile this tragety, the loss, the pain. Andy’s pictures thoughout the house remind us of the soverign ways of an Almight God.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your son, John. I had no idea. At least his young life gave life to others. Still, I’m sure you’d prefer to have him with you.

    • Georgie-ann

      “His ways are not our ways is the only way I can reconcile this tragety, the loss, the pain. Andy’s pictures thoughout the house remind us of the soverign ways of an Almighty God.”

      Even though we often seem to be ceaselessly trying, our ability to “know” and understand and “figure out” about all the things that go on around us, is really quite limited,…even on a good day! It is frustrating, and can be exhausting and well nigh impossible for our finite minds to keep trying to wrap themselves around the infinity, the grandeur and interwoven complexities that are God’s sovereign domain. And since it is impossible for us to ascend to this greatness of knowledge and being, how comforting (and even a relief) it is, that we can accept to put these things in His sovereign hands, where they do truly ultimately belong. In such humility and trust is a deep key to peace. Thank you for a beautiful reminder.

  8. Pingback: Grieving To The Pineapple Rag | The Neighborhood Café

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