I have thought more about grief in the last year than ever before. Grief comes from loss, and we all—individually, collectively, and to varying degrees—have experienced real loss in these past months of life.
Our loss is why we were eager to say goodbye to 2020. With the prospect of a vaccine and life as “normal,” 2021 holds out hope of relief. But I wonder if in our eagerness to leave behind our losses we may miss something of eternal value.
We may even miss Christ and his work in our lives because, in his kingdom, the ones who are blessed are those who mourn (Matt. 5:4). Last year was a “house of mourning” for us, and we would be wise to linger under its roof a little longer (Eccles. 7:3–4).
Long and Winding Grief
In 2007, I was a sophomore at Virginia Tech when a fellow student shot and killed 32 people on our campus. It remains one of the most surreal and shocking events of my life. It is a loss I am still unpacking and, oddly, something I grieve more now than I did then.
After the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis recorded that grief “needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”
Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.
Grief is not linear or straightforward. We want it to be tidy and finished, but it never is. It is inconvenient—who can choose when it happens? It can be irrational—we may say and think things we know in daily life are not true (“I’m all alone,” “Nobody understands or even cares,” “God must hate me”). It is counterintuitive—for adults, in particular, we think we should just “get over” our loss. And grief is compounding—in fact, when I hear other people share their grief, I often experience a fresh wave and understanding of my own.
Blessed Are the Mourners
When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” in one sense he is inviting us to be honest. Total depravity is not simply a systematic category but the systemic reality of our existence. If we are to grasp sin’s pervasive destructiveness, it will require a lot of tears.
If we are to grasp sin’s pervasive destructiveness, it will require a lot of tears.
But tears that spring from godly grief are how we enter and experience the comfort of God’s kingdom—this is true both in our sin and in our pain. As we grieve our sin, our pain, and the pain of others, we experience and express the comfort and compassion of Christ.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus reveals a simple fact of the kingdom: those who mourn in the arms of their heavenly Father will receive his comfort. If we harden our hearts, or suppress the truth, or try to “get over it,” or stay too busy to pay attention, then we miss the comfort our Abba wants to shower on and through us. Comfort for those who mourn is what the Beatitudes pledge, and it is what Christ’s life proves.
Comfort in Christ
When faced with the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. When faced with the unrepentance of Jerusalem, Jesus wept. When faced with the agony of the cross, Jesus wept.
Those were his sorrows because they are ours (Isa. 53). When Christ took us as his beloved bride, he bound himself to us so entirely that our sin, death, grief, and pain would be his, and his righteousness, life, joy, and comfort would be ours.
He is the true and better Ruth, who told the grieving Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people . . . where you die I will die” (Ruth 1:16–17). We might add, “Where you grieve I will grieve, where you weep I will weep. Your tears shall be my tears.”
In the Beatitudes, Jesus pledges his comfort. In his life and death, Jesus proves his comfort. And in pouring out the Spirit, Jesus provides his comfort. The Holy Spirit confirms in our hearts that Jesus doesn’t merely weep for people generally, but he weeps with us personally.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus pledges his comfort. In his life and death, Jesus proves his comfort. And in pouring out the Spirit, Jesus provides his comfort.
As J. I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, our pain, sorrow, and grief are shouldered by the Man of Sorrows such that “he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of [us] to heaven.”
Christ invites us to be honest about 2020 (and all other years). And the honest truth is that our bodies are dead because of sin; that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death; that we live in an evil age; and that life, as we know it, is passing away.
But Christ also invites us to an honest engagement with himself: our sin really is met with his cross, our pain really is met with his tears, and our death really is met with his resurrection. He is redeeming not only our sinful selves, but also our sad selves.
Let’s do the hard work of grieving the losses of this past year, that we might genuinely rejoice in Christ’s eternal comfort. Let’s schedule time to reflect in prayer. Let’s find space as the body of Christ for corporate lament. Let’s seek counseling and share our pain with friends and pastors. Let’s neither stuff away our grief nor wallow in unbelief, but genuinely pour out our hearts to God, because he has pledged, proven, and provided the comfort our souls desperately need.