Early in my grieving after Marrett’s death, my therapist suggested that the love I held for him needed somewhere to go, now that it couldn’t be shared with his physical person. Instead, I snuggled his big wiggly hunting dog, I washed his boat, I combed through his papers and books to sift out the best to be shared with his children. And of course, I loved his children with my own love, and as much of his style and vigor as I could muster.
In those acts of love, I came to understand (as many others have) that grief is most simply a natural consequence of loving deeply. If we love other people, organizations to which we belong, and the dreams we have for ourselves, we will grieve when we lose those people, when organizations disappoint us, when dreams don’t turn out as we hoped. Grief is not a problem to be solved then, but an experience to be lived with our full selves, just as we love.
Once I accepted my grief as a natural consequence, I also began to understand that God’s love walks hand in hand with grief. As Christians, we proclaim that God is love, and if that is true, then God also grieves. We know this intuitively as we experience sinful behavior in ourselves and others that leads to pain and destruction, and we proclaim from pulpits that God is grieved by this sin. But how often do we think of God’s grief as personal like our own? Perhaps when we contemplate the suffering and death of Jesus, but even then we want to set God’s grief apart from ours as bigger and more important or more justified.
Scripture bears witness to a different reality, though. Before the flood in Genesis, we meet a God who is stricken through the heart, flooded so completely by grief that all God can think to do is wipe out all created life and start over. Through the prophets, we hear God lament like a parent who stays up late into the night worrying over the choices of her children, and wondering where she has gone wrong. In the person of Jesus, we see God taking time to weep in grief at the tomb of a dear friend, over a city from which God hoped so much more than came to be.
The God who loves so fully and completely grieves as a natural consequence of that love, and does so with a full range of emotions just as we do. This means we have a model for grieving in God, as well as the affirmation that grief is a God-filled and holy experience. There are things we learn through grief that cannot be learned any other way, both about ourselves and the God who loves us. This is no accident, beloveds, but an encouragement to trust that even what feels disorienting and unmoors us need not separate us from our God.