More about hard issues

Good Grief

Today, a little detail we often overlook.

Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
—Acts 8:2, NIV

Some zealous Christians say it is not right for a Christian to be grief-stricken at the funeral of a fellow Christian. After all, they say, if we truly believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, if He promises to resurrect His faithful ones from the dead, and if we have faith that He will carry out that plan, then death is at worst a temporary condition and nothing to fret about. Whoever dies in the Lord, is with the Lord, and surely we can trust Him.

However much such remarks might be founded in faith, they are not founded in compassion for the bereaved.

Certainly, devout Christians are permitted to grieve the loss of their loved ones and their leaders, even if the loss is only temporary separation.

If you have never lost someone to death, you might not even know what grief is. It is not sadness, thought it is quite similar, and it is not the same thing as a transient depression, although admittedly depression may result from grief. If the human emotions of happiness, outrage, disgust, sadness, delight, awe, and so on, were colors in a palette, grief would stand alone as one of the cardinal colors. As you know, laughing at a joke and being truly happy are two entirely different things. Likewise, sadness and grief are different.

Some emotions cannot be suppressed. For example, I once went to a party where everybody was dressed casually, but one man was dressed in a tuxedo, like Fred Astaire. During the party, I went to get a glass of water from the kitchen, and the host followed me there to ask me if I was having a good time. I confirmed that I was, and then I asked about the man in the unusual clothes.

“Oh him,” my host replied, “He works for a dance studio and he likes wearing those clothes so much he wears them all the time.”

So I replied, “Well, I was wondering why he was dressed like Mr. Peanut,” referring to the cartoon character used in advertisements for Planter’s Peanuts.

Well, the guy did look an awful lot like Mr. Peanut. My friend the host thought my remark was hysterically funny, but he tried to contain his laughter. Unfortunately the laughter wouldn’t allow itself to be suppressed. Back among the other guests, he kept suppressing giggles. Someone asked him what was so funny, so he repeated it in a whisper and swore the person to secrecy so the guy’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt. As it turned out, this phenomenon repeated itself until everyone at the party was suppressing giggles except for the man in the tuxedo. He finally demanded to know what everyone was laughing at. So they told him, and the suppressed laughter roared out of control.

Mr. Peanut was so embarrassed that he left immediately. Everyone was very sorry to have inadvertently humiliated him, but they couldn’t stop laughing long enough to apologize.

I agree that I should not have made my remark in the first place, but my point is that the humor wouldn’t allow itself to be suppressed. You know how a joke gets funnier the longer you try not to laugh at it.

The same thing is true with grief. It is a fundamental human emotion that cannot be suppressed, not even by piety. It must have an outlet, and if it does not find one, it will do immense damage until it does.

It is true that we are not pagans without hope. It is true that Jesus will come again to rescue His little ones from death. In the meantime, if our loved ones fall asleep in the Lord, we are deprived of their company and their love for the rest of our lives. Certainly no tragedy has befallen our friends who are asleep in Christ, but a great tragedy has befallen us who are deprived of them. Surely, that is a tragedy worth grieving over.

Just as the devout men made loud lamentations over Stephen when they buried him, you can grieve the loss of your friends and family through death without compromising your trust and devotion to the Lord.

Mr. Peanut is a registered trademark for Planters Peanuts.