The first six months of 2012 have been another season of grieving loss in the Ferguson family. As for all people, these times come and go with varying degrees and severity. But we have felt it personally with two miscarriages this spring. We already have four children, sure, but that fact doesn’t make the loss of an unborn child any easier, just harder to process. Life keeps on rolling, and our four kids keep on demanding time and love and care (as they should). In light of these events, Barie and I have had to carve out intentional time to revisit our theology of suffering and grief. I say “revisit” because we’ve been here before – both in terms of experiencing a miscarriage and walking through other kinds of loss. But having a biblical view of suffering and loss is not enough when times of suffering come close. Our beliefs are challenged once again. Scriptures that we’ve read before must be revisited, and prayers we’ve prayed have to be said again. We must draw near to the Lord and not just hear His voice but feel His presence.
As a person, I experience grief personally. As a pastor, I experience grief vicariously. Romans 12:15 commands me to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. This is not a call to simply understand someone’s grief or to even empathize with someone in their grief, but to share in their emotional experience. To smile and laugh with those who are rejoicing, to shed real tears of pain with those who are shedding real tears of pain. To enter into others’ pain and suffering as Jesus’ entered into our pain and suffering – not metaphorically, but actually. In this way, I have not only seen grief personally, but seen it through the eyes of those who have lost so much so unexpectedly. This seems to have been a season not just of personal loss, but also of corporate loss. Of watching the people I shepherd go through deep loss and pain. For my bride, for my church, for those walking through a dark night of the soul, for my own heart, I offer these words of encouragement.
To The One Grieving in the Face of Terrible Loss-
First, I am so sorry for your loss. Regardless of what some might say about suffering being an illusion, your pain is real. God knows that your pain is not a figment of your imagination. Jesus wept when He lost his close friend Lazarus to death (John 11:35) even though He knew that God would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. The loss of his close friend caused Jesus to grieve. Your grief is normal. Your tears are justified. The grieving journey doesn’t have one stop – it has many. As soon as you think you have healed in your soul, something will remind you of the loss you have experienced and the emotions will come rushing back. Let them come. Don’t beat yourself up for being sad. Feel deeply the full emotional range that God has given you. Don’t deny your loss or act like everything is okay when it isn’t.
Second, God did not originally create the world this way. God looked at everything He made in the beginning and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). God created a world without suffering and loss and pain. He made men and women to live in perfect fellowship with Him without shame or death. According to the Bible, all suffering and death and pain are the result of human rebellion against God, not the result of God’s original design. This is important, because the Bible teaches us that God is not the author of the evil and suffering you are experiencing. We all want to blame God for the pain and loss we encounter, but the Bible is consistent with one message – human suffering is the result of human rebellion. But be careful here – the Bible is NOT teaching that your suffering is the result of your rebellion. Without divine revelation, we can’t tie personal loss to individual sin. Please take this to heart. You will not be able to find a specific reason for your loss in this life. The Bible teaches that suffering is universal (John 16:33 and Acts 14:22), not individual. Another way to say this is that the rationale for suffering and loss is a mystery to us in this life. We will never have a complete answer in this life to explain the losses we experience. And if you attempt to connect your suffering to your personal sin, you will slide into an endless cycle of depression.
Third, while the Bible doesn’t offer you an explanation of why you are experiencing loss in your specific situation, it does offer you a revelation of a God who is sovereign over your grief. This is the great hope of the Bible – not that your suffering has a reason, but that your life has a Sovereign. God’s reign is not diminished or limited because of your loss. You will be tempted during your grief to question God’s power in this life, to reason in your mind that God must not really be in control or “this wouldn’t have happened.” I understand this thought and must own that it has crossed my mind from time to time. But in the midst of grief over loss, the Bible points us to the majestic, overwhelming, sovereign power of God. When Job questions the goodness, power, and mind of God in the face of his own loss, God gives Job a revelation of His character (see Job 38-39). The biblical answer to our grief is not a smaller view of God, but a bigger view of God. Our only hope in the face of our deepest loss is the sovereign power of God. God can still work good from our grief because He is God. If we diminish or give up on the biblical grandeur of God, we forfeit the only grounds we have for peace and joy to overcome our grief and despair.
Finally, while your emotions don’t support this conclusion right now, you must receive the biblical teaching on the goodness of God. God is not only in control. He is good. While the evidence in your life right now leads you to believe that God is against you, please know that the biblical evidence is that God loves you. How do I know that God is good even in the midst of terrible loss? Because God is not just up in heaven saying that He loves us. He has actually entered human history in the person of Jesus Christ and suffered the deepest kind of loss possible. Jesus was betrayed and rejected and tortured and killed. God in Christ went through suffering to redeem us from suffering. Because Jesus died for us on the cross and rose again, we can be confident of the character of God regardless of what we go through in this life (see Romans 8:38-39). This is your great hope in the midst of your unbearable loss. God is good. Even more, God is loving. Better yet, God is good and loving toward you in Jesus Christ. Your emotions may not receive this, but your soul can as you meditate on the promises of God.
In the end, the Bible teaches us that while our pain is real and deep and crushing, the good and gracious God of the universe will one day make everything sad come untrue (Revelations 21:3-4). He has started that redemption process in the death of His Son, and will finish it at the return of His Son. My prayer for you in the midst of your terrible loss is that you will not pull away from God, but that you will lift your eyes to your Help, the Maker of Heaven and Earth (Psalm 121:1-2). God understands your deepest grief. And He is able to hold you in His hands while you process your loss.
All my love and prayers are with you-