The Power of Grief and Its Purpose


I have perceived two pervasive responses in our culture that seem to influence and dominate how we react to grief. The first treats grief as an unwelcome, uninvited trespasser to be shunned or dismissed. 

The gospel of John tells a story with which many are familiar. Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, becomes sick. Jesus does not immediately travel to see His ailing friend, but instead arrives several days later. 

When Jesus arrives, He is first met outside the village by Martha. And when Mary is summoned, she falls, rife with grief, at the feet of Jesus, weeping. Jesus knows exactly what He’s come to do. And, indeed, it’s going to be good; it’s going to stagger and stun; it’s going to usher in incalculable joy. In just a few moments with just a few words, He will impel a rotting corpse back to life. Tears of mourning will be turned to tears of jubilance. 

The apostle John grants us passage to something of the utmost importance. He remembers that upon seeing Mary, Jesus was, “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). And then John tells us that Jesus began to weep (v. 35). We must see and taste and feel the tears falling down Jesus’ face, and hear the guttural cry of our Lord. He suffers His heart to bleed and break. And so must we. 

In just a few minutes, Jesus is going to turn death on its head. Couldn’t He have skipped the tears? But He doesn’t, does He? Jesus weeps. Here Jesus Christ, the life and light of the world, is affronted by death and darkness. Jesus’ disciple shows us that not only are we are joined to one another in our grief, we are united to Jesus in His.

I mentioned that there were two responses to grief. The second response is to treat grief not as a foe but as a friend, a codependent lover. In this case, the griever does not shun grief, but instead coddles it, dotes on it, gives it a position of authority in his life. Grief is indulged at every opportunity. I cannot see your pain because I am so enamored with my own. I cannot be held responsible to complete this task because I am going through a hard time. 

To be sure, grief can and does, at times, bring us to our knees. And yet eventually, even in our grief, we must rise. The children still need to be fed, the bills must be paid, the laundry cleaned, the grass cut. Resilience is one of the great virtues of the Christian life. 

We are called to live with strength and courage of heart. A shadow may exist over our joy. But it cannot make us forever numb to joy. 

Are we ourselves content with lives of sorrow and sin? Has pain made a permanent dwelling place in our hearts, become a pleasant and satisfying companion? Are we competitively counting our crosses and comparing our wounds with each other? Or, do we want to taste and see that the Lord is good? 

Though grief remains a part of us, we should not need nor should we desire to be continually affirmed in our sadness. That doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes speak of our sorrow or that we won’t continue to grieve. Some wounds we bear until heaven. It merely means that grief takes its proper place in our stories, and its role is never that of the star, nor does it play the part of the savior. 

We live in the shadow, but the darkness cannot overcome the light.

Adapted from Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope by Katherine Elizabeth Clark (© 2018).  Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

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