This post is a transcription of the original episode of Verity Podcast, linked below.
Something in my heart really changed last year when I broke my leg. For those of you who don’t know, in the middle of 2019, while I was really struggling with my autoimmune disease, I broke my leg in a soccer game at the knee and went in for surgery. I now have a plate and eight screws in my leg. During that season of being completely dependent on other people, I cried the whole time. I cried every single day, I wept through my Bible, through the Psalms, and the difficulty of that changed me. Now when I talk about difficult, hard times in my life, it’s very hard for me to not get emotional.
I think a lot of the episodes of Verity have me crying a little bit, and a little warning, I will probably cry in this episode, too, because we’re talking about grief. We’re talking about what Scripture says about who God is in the middle of grief. If you don’t like tears, I apologize, but I think sometimes it really is a time to weep, and we can rejoice in the weeping. I know that sounds so strange, but we’re going to hear why that’s scriptural in a little bit here.
The Book of Job is probably the book we’re most familiar with regarding grief. To be perfectly honest, for most of my life, I didn’t like reading the Book of Job. It was confusing, long, and depressing. During those seasons that I was trying to read it I was not really in difficulty, and I really dreaded it because – as many of you know – I read through the Bible each year, and I’m in my fifth year of doing this. Job is always in there kind of towards the beginning because it’s one of the oldest books in the Bible, and it has been a struggle for me to complete it.
Job isn’t the only spot where the Bible talks about grief and loss and disappointment, but I think it’s a great spot to start when you’re struggling with grief. I first began to appreciate it when I went through some difficult seasons. During those seasons. I read Job and thought:
Maybe this book isn’t about application. Maybe this book was included to show us that it’s okay to grieve to be full of questions and pain and disappointment. Maybe Job is here in Scripture, not just to enhance a systematic theology, but to show us God’s kindness for the brokenhearted.
I’m currently in the stage of life where all my friends are married and having babies, at least most of them, but a lot of my friends are also struggling with infertility and miscarriage. As a friend who’s watching from the sidelines (I have my own hormonal struggles and my own fertility problems) but to watch someone else walk through it, to hold their hand as they weep over their loss, my efforts to comfort feel so empty when I know the grief someone is facing. Being with them in their grieving has driven me to understand how Christ meets us in our loss. It has driven me to see not just how to face grief, but how to experience it the way Jesus did.
Grief takes many forms. In my own life, my grief has not been the loss of a baby. It hasn’t been even the loss of a parent or a close relative. I’m very blessed that most of my relatives are still alive. So my grief has been in terms of other loss – like financial loss, or when my husband lost his job, the insecurity of being pregnant and always having something traumatic happen during my pregnancies; grieving not having a normal pregnancy. For me, grief looks like the lack of healing of my autoimmune disease. It’s walking in public with a rash on my face that makes people avert their eyes and act awkward or shame me for looking like this in public. That’s grievous to me. It’s just a different kind of grief.
We all have something that we may be grieving, the loss of something, things not going the way we planned, relationships not panning out, a break up, death. Grief shows up in many different ways.
Empty platitudes don’t really help us.
- “They’re in a better place.”
- “Don’t worry, you’ll find a job soon.”
- “I’m sure that you’ll have a baby by next year.”
- “Isn’t this the fun part anyway, the trying?”
These things don’t encourage us. In fact, they can emphasize our grief and emphasize our loss. Job’s friends tried to join in his suffering and attempted to empathize, but they actually had a really discouraging and unbiblical view of suffering. They didn’t just fail to encourage him, they cross-examined Job for unexposed sin. Basically saying, “If these bad things are happening to you, it’s because you sinned in some way.” They insinuated he was to blame for the loss of his children and his wealth.
Job’s story teaches us a lot. One thing is for sure, our fellow humans can never fully empathize with our loss. Even the best of them can’t fill the gaping hole in our hearts when we’re grieving. If we expect people to make us feel better, to be the source or the way of encouraging us out of difficulty, we’re going to be disappointed.
One thing to note about Job: In Job’s day, Jesus had not yet come to earth. The only way to be at peace with God was to observe the Levitical law. Actually, you know what? Let me correct that. The Levitical law was likely not issued yet, because Job was written so early. We do know that animal sacrifices were taking place as a way of being at peace with God before that. We see Cain and Abel, we see Noah, and so animal sacrifices were keeping people at peace with God, but righteousness was still by faith, and Job was a righteous man. The separation between God and man to remove sin was yet to be bridged by Jesus. We see Job’s longing for something more in Job’s 16:21 which says,
“I wish that someone might arbitrate between a man and God, just as a man pleads for his friend.”
Some context: In that day, a man needed an advocate in court. If you needed an advocate, your friend could stand in. This friend would represent the accused and defend him before the judge. Job is saying, “I want someone to intercede for me before God, someone to present my case, to ask God why this is happening.”
What Job only hoped for, we actually have today. Jesus is our high priest interceding for us in our pain. This says right in Hebrews 4:14-16.
“Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
We quote this a lot in context of sin that Jesus can empathize with our weakness, but it also means Jesus has experienced the weakness of grief. Look at Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, grieving what He was about to do. Look at Him when Lazarus died, grieving the death of His friend, even though He was about to resurrect Him to life.
Being Christ-followers gives us a different perspective on loss. It’s not that we don’t feel the pain. The difference is, as Paul put it, “We do not grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope,” (Thessalonians 4:13). We might not feel hopeful, but we have a hope that outlasts death. We have the promise of eternity, free from pain and suffering and grief.
In the Dust of Our Dreams
Last year, one of my dear friends, actually it might be two years ago now, walked through a season of absolute loss. She had a health scare that resulted in a major surgery and scar. Her father died of cancer, and her mother was deeply struggling with his loss. She had an extremely fiery ordeal, as Peter puts it. But in that same season, she celebrated the wedding of her sister and adopted a new son. For her, joy and sorrow were equally mixed. As I watched her walk through this season, I noticed she never pretended the grief wasn’t there. She was honest about it, but she was still full of joy because she did not grieve as if she had no hope. Because of that, her grief actually glorified God even more.
Looking back at the example of Job, about halfway through the book, Job responds to his friends’ second round of critiquing. After crying out for this pity, he seems to turn inward and says something that I absolutely love. Typically, this verse is translated, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end, He will stand on the earth.” I’ve always taken this to mean, in the end, Jesus will return and all will be brought to justice, which is encouraging. However, the CSB, which is the translation I use daily, translates it:
“I know my Redeemer lives, and He will stand on the dust at last.”
At the last of our money, our security, our family, our life, who is still there in the dust of our possessions and achievements? Our Redeemer is alive. He is there, never forsaking us. He’s always with us, His presence comforting us.
I wanted to quick run through a few people in Scripture, women, specifically, who give us case studies in grief.
A Case Study in Grief: Hagar
The first is Hagar. Hagar is a woman who was basically used as a pawn in a plan hatched by Sarah, to get an heir for Abraham. Hagar didn’t have a choice. She basically became a sex slave. A concubine, secondary wife. Through the drama that happened through that she was sent away into the desert and was grieving essentially the loss of security, identity, and a future, and potentially the loss of her life. And yet, they’re in the midst of her pain, God met her. It says the angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert. It was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. He said, “Hagar, slave of Sarah, where have you come from and where are you going?” It’s interesting he asks her a question, because she doesn’t answer him. She says, “I’m running away.” She doesn’t say where she came from because she never really belonged. She doesn’t say where she’s going because she probably doesn’t know. In this loss of clarity, God comes to Hagar and promises her a hope, a way out. He gives her the strength she has to continue. She says, “You are the God who sees me. I am now seeing the one who sees me.” For Hagar’s grief, God was the one who sees.
A Case Study in Grief: Hannah
Another example is Hannah, who pours out her heart to God and Eli thinks she’s drunk because of how passionately she’s praying, “God, give me a son, give me a son. I’ll give him back to you.” God answers her with a child in due time. Hannah’s prayer was answered. That doesn’t mean it was immediate, but that God, He heard her grief. He saw her pain. For Hannah, God was the one who answers.
A Case Study in Grief: Naomi
Another example is Naomi. We often focus on Ruth in the story of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi was a woman who came back to Israel for being an exile, and actually named herself Mara, which means bitter. But through the story of Ruth and Ruth’s faithfulness, and Boaz’s faithfulness to God. Naomi’s story is totally redeemed, not just Ruth, but also Naomi story. For Naomi, God was the one who restores. Then, the Samaritan woman who is a major theme in Stop Calling Me Beautiful. This is a woman who has grieved incredible loss in so many different ways, who has been possibly abused sexually, maybe was infertile to explain the multiple divorces with her history and her sexual history. Here she is, meeting this man at the well, and Jesus steps right into her grief and her loss. He entered into her pain, and He actually addresses the most painful part of her story, He says, “You have had five husbands and you’re living with a guy who is not your husband.” He steps right into it. But in doing so, He helps her find hope.
A Case Study in Grief: Dinah
One story that we didn’t really address, what is another theme in my book (Stop Calling Me Beautiful), is Dinah. Dinah is a daughter of Leah and Jacob. She was raped in Genesis 34. She was made completely vulnerable, an entire city was killed on her behalf. She was taken back to her father’s house and we hear nothing else about her. Yet – and this gives me chills – Dinah’s story happened at the exact same well where the Samaritan woman met Jesus (John 4. More about this in the book). But Dinah’s story ends in silence.
I’ve often wondered, why did God answer so many women in these narratives, but Dinah’s story, we don’t see anything? I had a chance to wrestle with these questions when last year, I broke my leg in that soccer game, and my entire world stopped. I went in for surgery, left with that plate and screws in my knee, and in one night, I went from an active mom of two to being incapacitated and completely unable to even dress myself.
In the midst of the pain of the surgery, which was the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life, my autoimmune disease continued to flare. I had the rash all over my face and neck and my arms. I had never felt so abandoned by God, to sit in a wheelchair or on crutches or on the couch for two and a half months at the height of summer, completely dependent on my community and my sister who quit her job and came and watched my children. That’s hard, you guys, and I battled God’s silence in those weeks.
I have prayed for healing of my disease for years. While some progress has been made, it’s mostly the same. My grief was, God does not hear me. He’s silent to my pain. But something I learned in those months is that silence does not mean God is absent. In the silent periods, we have to choose to trust who God is and who He’s proven himself to be in every other story we know. He is just, He is kind, He is present, and He has love. This was Dinah’s hope, and it’s ours as well. Our grief is known, and our grief is carried. It’s difficult. It’s hard to trust God when everything feels like it’s lost.
My friend, Bekah, who lost her baby son at three weeks old and has walked through incredible grief has said: “We prayed for our baby to live. We prayed for it.” But that’s not how God chose to answer. I want to read to something that she wrote when he passed away.
“I have peace that God would take care of my son, that he would not have to be a fighter anymore, that he will be getting the new heart to be prayed for, and that you would never have to experience the heartache and darkness of this world.” God did answer all of our prayers, just not in the way we expected.”
Christian grief does not require pretending everything’s okay. It does not mean we cease to feel or to hurt or wonder if the void will never again be filled. It does not mean we’ll be healed, but it does mean that we face all the pain and loss with the presence of a loving and faithful God.
We will face a lot of hard and heartbreaking things in this life, but the difference for women of God?
We have all of God Himself.
Listen to the Episode
Resources for Further Reading
- Hope When it Hurts: Biblical Reflections for Hope in Suffering
- This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers
- Held: Biblical Reflections on God’s Comfort and Care in Miscarriage
- A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)
- Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (Tim Keller)