Good Grief

Pete Greenwood

7 August 2013

An Unwelcome Message

I got the text message while I was in a meeting. Glancing briefly at my phone, it took me under a second to know what was happening.

‘Nan worse…Dr says time is short–days maybe weeks.’

I have been mentally preparing myself for this day for some time. No one lives forever. My Nan is 91 years old. She’s had a great innings. And yet as my wife and I flew down to Tasmania to see her, I couldn’t help but feel greatly troubled.

When we got to the nursing home, I was stunned at how much she had deteriorated. She was sallow and sunken. Her eyes no longer had that cheeky glint. She seemed weak, a shadow of her former strength. Speaking with her was difficult as she rambled about the doctors trying to kill her and imaginary trips to South America. This was not the Nan I knew.

Afterwards, my dad (her son) and I stood outside her room and allowed the tears to come. My dad kept repeating two words that rang in my ears.

It sucks…It sucks.

Death Does Suck

My Nan is a Christian, so she is soon going home to be with Jesus. I know that I will be reunited with her again one day, and that reunion will be joyful beyond belief.

And yet despite all these things I know to be true…I am still not cool with it!

Death does suck! There is something about that fact that completely contradicts my logical mind. I shouldn’t be upset because I know that death is not the end, and yet the hurt remains.

But through my tears outside that sterile nursing home room, I remembered that I am not the only person to have broken down in the presence of death.

Jesus Wept

In John 11 we read of how Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus dies. John records that Jesus, upon seeing those in mourning, was ‘deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled’ (11:33) and that ‘Jesus wept’ (11:35). But this doesn’t make sense! Why would Jesus be so choked up when He knew full well that He was about to bring Lazarus back from the grave?

A study of the Greek shows that Jesus in verse 33 was ‘outraged within himself’. The word embrimaomai here has the connotation of the angry snorting of beasts. He was full of indignation. Then upon being taken to see the tomb, Jesus’ emotional response changes. Simply, ‘Jesus wept.’ He was filled with an intense grief.

But Jesus’ tears were not for Lazarus. His divine anger and grief were cosmic in their breadth.

Upon seeing the impact that sin and death have on the world, Jesus felt righteous indignation rising up within Him: the anger of a righteous warrior against His wicked enemy. Sin and death had had their way with God’s world for too long.

But then the anger was gone, replaced with a deep, raw grief. This is not how the eternal Son had designed the universe. The tears shed were those of a Creator upon seeing his beloved creations mangled and distorted.

We Do Not Despair

Even though Jesus would raise Lazarus, and soon die and be raised himself, He could not emotionally detach himself from this awful reality. But there is one key difference in how Jesus responds compared to many who see death as the end of life and the beginning of nothing.

He did not despair.

We do not ‘grieve as others do who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We are not terrified as some who cannot see beyond the grave. We trust in the history altering truth that Jesus has triumphed over death. But that does not mean that we must stoically pretend that it isn’t horrific. It is.

When loved ones die we are indignant at the wrongness of death and full of grief that the wages of sin still have some power in this world. As Don Carson says, ‘grief and compassion without outrage reduce to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance…’

But we weep tears knowing that our Saviour wept the same tears. We bring our lament, grief and anger to Jesus knowing that He sympathises with us in every way (Hebrews 4:15).

However as Christians we can simultaneously be filled with joy. While we may still grieve, we are not despondent because the life of our Saviour is in us, and we look forward to a day when the last enemy of the world is destroyed.

As I write this, my Nan has not yet departed this world for the next. When that time does come no doubt my tears will flow again. But my grief will be combined with a cry full of hope and joy.

"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Pete Greenwood

Pete is the planter and pastor of Inner West Anglican Church in Kensington, Melbourne (part of the St Jude’s Church network). He loves his Saviour Jesus Christ, his wife Jackie, his church family, his dog Loki, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and really hoppy IPAs – in that order.