In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah the prophet says . . .
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. 25 The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. 26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. 33 For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. ~ Lamentations 3:21-26, 32-33 (American Standard Version)
Please, please, please, don’t rush by verse 33! In fact, below are several different translations of this verse. Meditate upon it. We do not love and serve a cruel a God! We love and serve a righteous and loving God! Look for the nuance, the subtle differences in translations below:
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. (NIV)
For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow. (NLT)
For He does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind. (HCSB)
For he does not deliberately hurt or grieve human beings. (ISV)
For he is not predisposed to bring affliction or suffering to the children of men. (NHEB)
For he does not afflict nor grieve the sons of men from his heart. (JB)
For he hath not willingly afflicted, nor cast off the children of men. (DRB)
For He hath not afflicted with His heart, Nor doth He grieve the sons of men.(YLT)
These translations speak to the character and integrity of God Almighty. They are in direct contradiction to the allegations leveled against God and His Word in the world today.
God is not predisposed to willingly, or deliberately, hurt human beings. He does not enjoy bringing affliction, sorrow, pain or suffering to mankind. Neither does He cause grief nor cast off anyone from a heart filled with evil or cruelty.
Understanding those truths are so important to the grieving because the why question always begs to be answered and rarely is. The very foundation of a Christian’s faith is built upon the character, integrity, and power of God. And that power, oh, it trips us up! Because God didn’t intervene—and He could have. He could have but He didn’t protect the body of the deceased. He allowed the incomprehensible—the inconsolable to happen. But as Paul Harvey famously requested day after day on his radio broadcast, tune in for the rest of the story.
Before you vilify God when death comes calling consider Isaiah 57:1-2 in the Amplified version,
The righteous man perishes [at the hand of evil], and no one takes it to heart;
Faithful and devout men are taken away, while no one understands
That the righteous person is taken away [to be spared] from disaster and evil.
He enters into peace [through death];
They rest in their beds (graves),
Each one who walked uprightly [following God’s will, living with integrity].
And while our hearts stubbornly refuse to be comforted, the truth remains—there is a measure of consolation in understanding that your loved one has been spared future disaster and evil. There is consolation in knowing they are at peace, that Heaven is their home and reunion awaits.
But . . .
Hear this well!
Heaven and reunion are far off concepts for the parents, siblings and other individuals with a close, personal relationship with the deceased following the funeral when living with loss becomes a daily journey through the valley of shadow of death. The heart wants what the heart wants and the heart wants their loved one resurrected now!
There is a time to lament—to mourn and in Biblical days sackcloth and ashes were an outward manifestation of the inward heart. Consolation and comforting thoughts can never completely mitigate the anguish of loss.
Messages and reminders of hope feel oddly hollow in the face of life-long separation from your loved one. However, messages that reinforce the inherent and incalculable worth of the deceased, the great depth of loss for the grieving, and acknowledge that their lives have been changed in significant ways forevermore are well received.
Don’t rush past the hurt to extend hope. The grieving need to fully process and struggle through their pain and consistent validation and affirmation are the best gifts you can bring to the bereaved.
I know, hope, hope, hope. We have to have hope! But while the bereaved believer may feel hopeless it’s not true. It’s not reality because hope lies within the believer. It’s not something we have to strive to generate. Hope resides inside the heart and soul because the Holy Spirit is always at work.
Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Let Him nudge you to remind the bereaved of future hope when the time is right. In the meantime, and by that I mean months, and depending upon the intimacy of the relationship, years—years—plural people!—the bereaved will be desperate to have the value of the deceased and the natural sorrow that follows validated.
When you rush to extend hope, when you try to point out the positive, you inadvertently dismiss the worth and importance of the one lost—and that is entirely unacceptable to the bereaved. And the general response in such circumstances is to dig in their heals and refuse to be consoled and frankly, struggle longer and deeper in their grief, as they feel offended and righteously justified in mourning the great depth of their loss.
Hope can be friend or foe.
Hope inspires anticipation and patience, but it also frequently results in disappointment.
The bereaved are already residing in the land of sadness and sorrow as their hopes have been crushed. And therefore, it can feel absolutely incomprehensible that anyone would encourage those living with deferred hope to invest their hurting hearts in more hope. In fact, I dare say, that the bereaved would enjoy playing whack-a-mole with hope. Great satisfaction would be derived from whacking the crap out of the mole of hope every time he dared stick his head above ground.
Three years have passed and my hopes these days are invested in eternal things. My hopes of Heaven and all it promises won’t be deferred, of that I’m convinced. But it’s taken me a long time to make peace with hope. After the funeral, in the long days of suffering after friends and family had returned to the normalcy of their intact lives, validation was more valuable to me than hope. That was true for a very long time.
I’ve turned a corner. Thank God I’ve turned a corner in my grief, but it was a hard-fought and time intensive battle. Time may not heal but it does allow the Holy Spirit to perform His meticulous work in the heart of a bereaved believer. We must always yield the right of way to the Holy Spirit. God is the Great Physician. We merely serve as His hands and feet.