In Times Like These
The Battle with Grief
Pain, sickness, and death are universal experiences. They know no barriers of creed, race, gender, or age. Whether an infant suffers a deformation because of faulty genes, or an agile young athlete is cut down in is prime by an accident, or a seasoned mature senior sucumbs to the ravages of age—all are alike tragic.
Coping is not easy. Not only does the victim go through the trauma of a change of life style, but family and friends are affected as well. In addition to the physical concerns there are also economic and often social consequences. Confusion enters and questions pile up. Why? Why me? How can I handle this new experience? Is there a reason for it; a purpose behind it? The Christian adds one more question, Why does a God love permit evil?
You Can Cope
The grief that accompanies sickness or bereavement is itself an illness. Psychologists have outlined three distinct stages in its progression: denial, confusion or anger, and either bitterness or acceptance. It is the choice of the latter two which determines one’s future attitude.
DENIAL: It is only natural that in the early stages of a trauma we seek to deny that it is happening to us. “Maybe it will go away,” is our first response. As the problem progresses we resort to our second line of defense, “Somebody must have a solution to this problem, I will just search around.” Finally we fall back on “This won’t change things much.”
CONFUSION: As the reality of our new circumstances sink in confusion, mixed with varying degrees of anger, enters in. “Why me?” “I don’t deserve this!” “I am not ready for this experience!” “Why did God let this happen to me?” These are all normal reactions. They are legitimate questions to which we must find answers.
The Battle is in the Mind
This is where the most difficult part of the adjustment occurs. For many the initial anger hardens into bitterness. For the fortunate ones it subsides into acceptance.
Bitterness is to be avoided at all costs. Whereas anger is a passing emotion, bitterness is an enduring character trait which can be erased only with great difficulty. The Christian is admonished to rid himself of both these traits. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). Bitterness is contagious, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Heb. 12:15).
Bitterness has two effects. It produces a complaining disposition. “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
It can lead to suicide. “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures” (Job 3:20, 21).
The secret to avoiding bitterness and progressing to the point of acceptance is to mentally turn the tragic experience into a positive one by making of it a challenge. The question, “Why me?, is answered with the larger question, “Why not me?” We actively begin looking for the lessons in our experience and ways and means of adjustment to the new realities of our life.
Life now becomes a new exciting experience. It is almost like going through childhood’s trek of discovery again. Every adjustment to the new life is a challenging and learning experience. The sorrows or pain and difficulty are replaced with the joy of finding new ways to handle the daily affairs of life.
The Christian Perspective
The Christian has additional assets with which to cope with adversity. Primary among these are an assurance of God’s overruling in all of his affairs, the privilege of prayer, and a knowledge of the role of suffering in the overall plan of God.
PROVIDENCES: The Christian should not expect to be specially sheltered from those tragedies which happen to others. The Bible specifically states that they will share in the general experiences of their fellow man: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
The word here translated “escape,” the Greek ekbase, does not cover the same thought as the English “escape,” but merely the way out of, or through, an experience. This becomes obvious from the last phrase of our verse, “that ye may be able to bear it,” not “that ye may avoid it.”
Although their experiences are the same, there is a difference. One who has given his life to God is assured that all of life’s happenings, no matter how tragic they may seem, are for his ultimate good: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
In addition he can claim the promise of God’s sustaining care: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
It is this assurance which turns the tragedy into triumph, the seeming cause for sorrow into a cause for joy: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 C or. 12:9, 10).
As a result of these assurances the Christian takes a new perspective on his experiences, looking upon them as exciting learning opportunities.
PRAYER: The power of prayer has been testified to repetitively. It is the avenue of communication between the Christian and his God. Through prayer not only are petitions made, but a therapeutic conversation takes place with the Creator of the universe.
However, like with any powerful tool, caution must be used with prayer. It is tempting for the Christian to ask for health or a release from the sorrow he is enduring, but such prayers can be selfish. Rarely in the New Testament do we see a believer praying for miraculous healing.
It may be argued that the Apostle Paul prayed for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh,” probably the poor eyesight which resulted from his blinding experience on the way to Damascus (2 Cor. 12:7, 8; Acts 9:8, 9). Even here, however, he refrained from such requests after three such prayers and leaned upon the Lord for the grace sufficient to endure with his physical handicap.
Another text often used to support the thought of prayers for healing is found in James 5:14-16—” Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
It must be noted here, however, that the Greek word translated “sick,” the word astheneo, literally means “without strength” and refers generally to spiritual weaknesses and depressions and not to physical ailments.
Although the Bible does not support the thought of prayers for miraculous healing or removal of hard trials, it does encourage prayer for spiritual strength to endure the experience. God’s answer to such prayers is the above quoted, “my grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).