Good Grief.Posted: April 4, 2013 | |
Back a long time ago, when I was a teenager, I saw this piece of Christian Art. I tend to be a little bit picky (read: snobby — yes, even as a teenager) when it comes to things like art, so it’s possible my reaction to the particular picture was a bit unwarranted or harsh. And it didn’t help that I had already been warned by my older sister (who is also “picky”) that she had seen it, and had a certain reaction to it, too.
Anyway, the picture was of Jesus on the cross, and it was a close up of his face. And in this close up, he was laughing. Like, with a huge smile on his face, laughing one of those loud, explosive laughs from the look of it. (Probably the kind of laugh those of us at St. Paul’s are used to hearing on Sundays from a certain pastor we know).
Anyway, during one of our long walks after seeing this picture, my sister and I kind of broke down what it was that was so upsetting about it. We understood the sentiment: Jesus dying on the cross was not tragic and he was not a victim; he did it willingly, he sacrificed himself for us because he loved us. At the same time, though, there was something distinctly uncomfortable about the idea that Jesus was happy to the point of laughing about being tortured and executed, especially since, at the time, he was basically taking on the sins of the world and experiencing separation from his Father so we wouldn’t have to.
The emotion Jesus probably felt was one of Grief, not Happiness. From what we read in Matthew 27 (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”), from what we can tell in the Garden of Gethsemane, this was not a joyful and happy experience for Jesus that he was excited about.
On Sunday, Vince and Amy both spoke about how Jesus appeared in the midst of grief. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in her grief; Jesus appeared to Amy in her grief. And a couple weeks ago, Vince’s message on Lazarus being raised from the dead dealt with the idea that God feels and experiences sorrow that is perhaps incomprehensible to us, deeper than we can handle, even.
The trouble is: Grief is a little scary. It’s something we often try to suppress to avoid at all costs. We’re uncomfortable with it. It’s a part of the human experience in our broken world. The presence of grief reminds us that things are not right, that people get hurt, that people suffer.
The picture I saw expressed this discomfort (albeit unintentionally). I think the rationale might go something like: If Jesus’ death was good, then it shouldn’t be sad or sorrowful; if Jesus’ death was good, we should be glad about his suffering and death on the cross; if Jesus’ death was good, he was probably glad about it.
I’ve also found that some people think people who feel grief and sorrow too deeply might actually not be right with God somehow, since God is about joy and contentedness. But I would argue that grief and joy and contentedness are not mutually exclusive; if God feels grief, then grief is good, because God is good. God is not grief (in the way that God is Love, for instance), but God feels grief deeper than we do.
Grief is not weakness. Grief is not sinful. And grief is not solitary. When we grieve, God grieves with us.
But He also brings us comfort. In Thessalonians, Paul reassures the church that they need not grieve like those who have no hope over the deaths of those who have “fallen asleep,” and what he’s writing about is the other part of grief. In the same way Job laments “Though He slay me,” and still manages to follow up with: “yet I will hope in Him,” we grieve while clinging to the hope found in Jesus.