Grief and Intimacy - Part III

Thomas and I enjoy teaching together as we did in Wittenberg.  Blogging together is another matter.  I tend to speak much as I write.  Thomas speaks from notes and slides which don't read easily.  But his part of this teaching is by far the most practical, so I have made an effort to adapt them below.

My sense is that we in the Western Church – certainly in America – have lost the ability to grieve. This may be another consequence of separating ourselves from our Jewish roots. Our approach to pain is not grief. Instead, I think it can be summarized with two words:

Clinical – we diagnose and cut out the source of the pain, or prescribe drugs to mask the fact that the pain is there.

Cynical – we decide to become accustomed to the pain, so much so that we inflict it on others, and ridicule anyone who expresses hope of healing

In scripture, we do not see God responding to the pain of His heart, in either of these manners. He does not simply cut out the source of the pain and discard it. He never is described as masking or dulling His own pain. But God also never accepts the pain as normal.

Instead, God grieves

Jesus grieved in the gospels.  Here are seven principles for grieving taken from the gospels.

1) Refuse All Comfort Except God’s

Entering into grieving opens you up for God’s comfort.

The Discipline of Lament
From Reconciling All Things by Katongole & Rice

The voice from Ramah refuses to be consoled.
These are profound words in a world full of easy
ways of consoling ourselves. Rachel’s cry refuses
to spiritualize, explain away, ignore or deny the
depth and truth of suffering in the world. She
rejects soothing words and “can’t we all just get
along” sentiments. Her refusal takes seriously the
rupture and wounds of the world as well as the
deep cost of seeking healing … Rachel allows the
truth to shake her to the very core.

Matt. 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, because they
will be given comfort.

2) Express Your Frustration with the Power-less Church

Matthew 17:14-17
When Jesus and his disciples came down
from the mountain, they met a crowd of
people, and a man came and fell on his
knees before Jesus and said, “Lord, have
mercy on my son .He has seizures and experiences
tremendous suffering. He often falls into the
fire or into the water. I brought him to your
disciples, but they could not heal him.”

Jesus said, “You unbelieving and perverse
generation of Israel, how long will I put up
with you? Bring your son to me.”

3) Change Your Location to Draw Near to Pain

John 11:17, 33-35
When Jesus arrived at the town of Bethany, on
the Mount of Olives, Lazarus had been in the
tomb for four days ... When Jesus saw Mary and
the Jews crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit
and greatly troubled.
Jesus said to the Jews, “Where did you put
Lazarus’ body?” They said, “Lord, come. We will come. We will show you."
Jesus wept.

Jesus first drew near to grieving people, then drew near to the dead man’s tomb.

4) Imagine What Is Lost

Imagine what God intended, then meditate on what has been lost, what is currently being lost, and what will be lost because of human choices.

Luke 19:41-46
The days will come upon you when your enemies
(the Romans) will build a great battle bank against
you and surround you on every side.
They will destroy Jerusalem, down to the ground,
with you and your children within its walls.
They will not leave one stone upon another,
because you did not recognize the time of your
God’s coming to you
(this prophecy came true
when the Romans attacked and destroyed
Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70).”

5) Fast from Food

Mark 2:19-20
Jesus said to them, “The guests of the bridegroom
do not fast when he is with them. But the time
will come when the bridegroom will leave them,
and then they will begin to fast.”

Appropriate fasting can unlock grief in our hearts, because it removes one way that we comfort ourselves so that we don’t have to grieve.

6) Weep

John 16:20-22
I tell you the truth: You will cry and mourn when I
leave, but this world will rejoice. Yo
u will mourn,
but your sorrow will become joy. A woman giving birth has great pain at the time
she is giving birth, but after she gives birth she
forgets her pain because of her great joy in her
new baby.In the same way, your hearts will be filled with
sadness when I leave, but when I return your
hearts will be filled with joy, and no one will be
able to take this joy away from you.

7) Seek Companionship … & also Solitude

Mark 14:33-35
Jesus took Peter, James, and John along with him,
and he became deeply grieved and troubled.
Jesus said to them, “My soul is overcome with
sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” 
Going a little farther away, he fell to the ground and prayed
that if possible he might not experience this time
of great suffering.

Jesus takes all  of his disciples to  the garden. He takes his most trusted friends further, and tells them of his condition. Then goes by himself, asking them to stay and pray.

We Westerners may need permission to enter into some of these seven activities. Jesus is giving us this permission. One reason we have abandoned the practice of grieving, is that there can also be inappropriate grieving. Jesus was aware of this Himself. He removed  noise-makers from Jairus' house.

But we have lost something precious and essential when we turn away from the response of grieving, out of fear of grieving inappropriately. Jesus actually seems more concerned about inappropriate non-grieving, than inappropriate grieving.

Luke 7:31-35
Jesus said, “To what do I compare this
generation of Israel? What are they like?
They are like children sitting in the public
market and calling out to each other,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not
dance; we sang a song of the dead for you,
but you did not mourn.’"

So, there is an appropriate time for lamenting and for weeping. But as Jesus makes clear, there is also an appropriate time for rejoicing and dancing. In fact, grieving opens our heart to joy. Without deep repentance and grief, we cannot fully enter into the joy of Christ. In our work in Wittenberg, we have a particular focus on grief over the sins of the Church which have brought division, pain and dishonor to the name of Jesus.

Paul writes, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads
to salvation and leaves no regret, but
worldly sorrow brings death.
"2 Corinthians 7:10

I will end with a reflection on this passage written by a friend, Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan.

This experience of grief and comfort is not, for
Paul, an unnatural state … Rather, these
experiences of suffering and grief are essential
facets of reconciliation and paradigms.
Paul sees the Corinthians’ participation in this
cycle of suffering and comfort as identification
with “the sufferings of Messiah” and the
“abundant … consolation” made available through
the Messiah (2 Cor 1:5). The death and
resurrection of Jesus not only answer the grief
Paul and the Corinthians face but also enable Paul
to embrace this pain (and invite the Corinthians to
join him) in the texture of salvation that moves
from death to life.
For Paul, comfort comes as God’s work to assuage
this pain and grief. Comfort is part of the process
of reconciliation and salvation leading to the
renewed participation of the Corinthians in the
common work of Paul and the communities he