If God is love, and grief is really just love that now has no living object, then it seems obvious that God is found in grief. Yet every time I make this connection, first for myself in the wake of Marrett’s death and now regularly for others in writing, preaching and speaking, people are stunned.
We have been taught, sometimes purposefully, to push the feelings that we’ve deemed negative down inside ourselves, away from our heart centers. Grief is full of this kind of feeling: sadness, anger, denial, depression, disappointment. It’s no wonder we give it so little time and space in our lives and our culture.
But in our Scriptures, in the history of the people who called themselves by God’s name, grief takes center stage along with all its messy feelings. In that mess, God shows up and shows who They are. In fact, I would argue that we see God most clearly in the painful experiences described in Scripture. That argument bears out in my own life too, as I have discovered the most about who God is and what God wants in my worst times.
This means that the danger we face when we push grief away from us to protect ourselves is that we are also pushing a deeper and truer experience of God away. If God has most accurately revealed Godself in the cross, why do we think we can know who God is by pushing suffering away from us? I believe this is what Paul meant when he talked about “glory[ing] in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produced character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, NRSVUE)
I know this line of reasoning can lead us into theologically suspect territory, by glorifying suffering for it’s own sake, but I also believe deeply that the theology of the cross both promises and demands that we suffer with Christ. Not because the suffering is good, or necessary to become who we are meant to be, but simply because God is present to us and with us in suffering. Trying to avoid suffering, whether it be grief or any other kind, ends up leading us away from God and the Kin-dom God is trying to bring among us. As God’s people, we glory in all the things that God is in, which includes suffering.
God came in the person of Jesus knowing that suffering was part of the package. God knew that by suffering with us, in a human body, God would be able to show us more fully how present and committed God is to being in relationship with us. There is no limit to God’s solidarity with us, through death and grief and sorrow and loss, as well as all the joy and goodness we welcome with open arms.
And just as any grieving person will tell you the terrible feelings of grief are a worthy price for the love they come from, God promises that the love given to us freely in Christ will be enough to hold us through all the pain life brings. May we learn to embrace the opportunities grief brings to know and see God better.