A little over three years ago I lost my mother to breast cancer. That was definitely the most difficult experience of my life. There are no words to explain the grief of watching your mother fade away. To see the one you’ve lived so much life with lying there lifeless. Still. Dead.
And I’ll never forget the scene just after my mother passed away. As she lay there dead in our living room, I watched my family members go through an interesting ritual. Just as they were about to break down in painful tears of sorrow and loss, they would suddenly try to fight the pain by saying, “She’s in a better place. She’s not suffering. God works all things for good.”
As I watched this ritual play out before my eyes, I discovered an important truth.
God’s word is not meant to minimize our pain.
Too often Christians use God’s promises like an anesthetic. Something to take the pain away. Something that will keep them from feeling life’s hard edges.
But I want to suggest something radical. When pain or tragedy strike, the healthiest response is not to quote Romans 8:28 and tell yourself to not feel so bad. The healthiest response is to go as deeply into that pain as God will allow.
Why would I say this? Let me answer by telling you how my mother’s death affected me. I grieved hard, bitter, agonizing grief when she died. I watched the cancer rack and wither her body until it ripped the life out of her. And as she lay there dead, and I stood over her weeping bitter tears, two amazing things happened.
1. I began to hate sin more than ever. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Until the day my mother died, death was just a concept to me. A theory. A truth. But now it was real. Now it had flesh and bones. Now death had ripped my heart in two. And I hated it. You see, to the degree that you enter into the grief, you will also cultivate a hatred of sin.
2. I began to understand the gospel more than ever. In the months following my mother’s death the Bible came alive to me. And particularly, the gospel message. Again, up to this point the gospel was largely theoretical. I believed it, to be sure. But now it meant something so much deeper when I read about Jesus conquering sin and death. For I had tasted the bitterness of death and wanted nothing more than to be delivered from it. And because I entered into this grief, the gospel of Jesus began to thrill me.
And it wouldn’t have happened if I had just quoted a few verses to myself like taking aspirin.
In To the Golden Shores, Courtney Anderson tells of an incident in the life of Adoniram Judson. After losing his wife and child on the field he nearly went insane with grief. After about three years of hard grieving one of his fellow missionaries died leaving a young wife behind. Here’s an excepts of a letter Judson wrote to this grieving widow:
You are now drinking the bitter cup whose dregs I am somewhat aquainted with. And though, for some time, you have been aware of its approach, I venture to say that it is far bitterer than you expected. It is common for persons in your situation to refuse all consolation, to cling to the dead, and to fear that they too shall too soon forget the dear object of their affections. But don’t be concerned. I can assure you that months and months of heart-rending anguish are before you, whether you will or not. Yet take the bitter cup with both hands, and sit down to your meal. You will soon learn a secret, that there is sweetness at the bottom…
What do you think? How should a Christian use God’s word in times of deep suffering?