How to Grieve with Others Like Jesus
Grief demands a response. Both in the practical sense that we need to be with, and often help, those who are hurting, and in the spiritual sense. Grief is present because something that seems immovable has been moved. Something that should be there has been lost, be it life or innocence (or both in one fell swoop).
Anyone who has carried pain or grief knows the overwhelming nature of that burden. We are often left stumbling under the weight of it, wondering what this new life, life without something that was, will look like.
Some, often cynics, think it is best to simply move on, pretending the abnormal is normal. I understand the tendency here because what we in this human experience frame as normal because it happens with regularity and to all mankind, namely, death, which we know from the reading of scripture is in fact deeply abnormal.
Here, our senses and our spirit are at odds. We sense in our souls that something is wrong but our senses tell us otherwise.
The competing natures require us to look at which nature is more trustworthy. Since one is limited by temporary, fleeting experiences and natures (namely, the human body as it is in the fallen world) and the other is based, not just on the call to justice but by the Holy Scriptures, I find the latter, the nature disturbed by death, to be the truer nature.
To suppress the true nature for the fleeting then would be a mistake.
We need to know how to grieve with others well.
Whether or not we should react to grief isn’t the discussion, but rather how do we best respond to grief. Do we work to fix the problem in front of us? As Christians, we often jump to this conclusion. We are quick to point out the hope of the Resurrection as a cure-all as if Christ Himself did not weep before raising Lazarus from the dead.
Do we, as Job’s friends, simply sit with one another and acknowledge pain? While Job’s friends made many mistakes, they are generally regarded as wise and supportive friends for the days they simply sat silently with their friend in his turmoil. It was when they opened their mouth that the troubles began.
A Christian response to grief must look at Christ’s response to grief. When the sisters of Lazarus came to Him, what was His response? They accused Him of failing to intervene, but He did not respond with defensiveness. He grieved. He reminded them that their brother would live again, but did not seek to correct their intellectual misunderstandings, and He got to work.
We can look to Jesus here as a model for how to grieve with others.
I think this pattern of communal grief, followed by hopeful reminders, and practical aid is one we should all follow.
First, Christ acknowledged the grief of those around him. He didn’t correct Mary and Martha, he simply went to be with them. He wept. He knew Lazarus would rise but he wept over his death.
He then pointed them to the hope of the resurrection. Their response shows that they both misunderstood which resurrection Jesus was referring to and also, that future hope doesn’t negate present grief. And Jesus didn’t correct them.
Because He too grieved even though there was hope.
His reminder of hope didn’t press beyond what they were ready to hear and understand. He didn’t provide theological explanations, He was simply with them.
Finally, He practically took care of their need. Because He was the son of God, intending to raise Lazarus from the dead, this practical response was in healing the source of their grief. Christ’s work was unique in its healing ministry but everywhere He went, He was concerned not just with the spiritual, but with the practical. When someone is deep in grief, practical needs matter.
In this world, we will have many sorrows and will undoubtedly face more grief than imagine. But we serve a God who does not dismiss grief as “just part of life” or seek to intellectualize or over-spiritualize it, He weeps with us.
And He went to work willingly, to enter into our grief, to bear our shame, and to make atonement for our sin so that one day, we will rise as He rose and He will wipe away our tears and usher us into a new world with no more tears and sorrow.
On that day, we will know what it meant. We will see the beauty of the Resurrection and say that He has done a good thing in our lives.
But that should never stop us from realizing the truth that He cries with us today and acting as His hands and feet to share in the grief of others.