Please listen again to these well-known words from our First Lesson, Job 19:23-27a…  "O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!  O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Charlie Brown is probably best known for uttering these two words on a regular basis: “Good Grief!”  While some might be inclined to judge that expression—“Good Grief!”—as being an oxymoron, in reality it expresses a profound truth.  Grief is both good and necessary.

On this “All Saints Sunday” we remember those who have gone before us, and for many who are gathered here this morning this can trigger some deep experiences of grief.  Whether we have lost loved ones recently, or some time ago, grieving doesn’t just stop and go away.  We can carry it with us for a long, long time.  And that’s okay.

Grief is about as certain as death and taxes.  I suppose wherever there is death or taxes, there is grieving, which is defined as “great sadness, especially as a result of a death.”   But death is not the only cause of grief.  We might grieve over any significant loss… health, job, house; even relationships, especially marriage.  Grief is part of the human experience.

The story of Job is a case study of grief… both how to grieve, and how not to grieve, as well as how to support someone in grief, and how not to support someone in grief.

As hopeful as Job’s words from our text sound, they contrast significantly with those uttered a few chapters earlier: Surely now God has worn me out; he has made desolate all my company.  And he has shriveled me up...  He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me…  God gives me up to the ungodly, and casts me into the hands of the wicked.  I was at ease, and he broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target…”

It looks like we are dealing with yet another paradox, with two propositions that seem absurd or contradictory, yet are both true.  In grief we’re angry at God, and in grief we find peace in God.  In grief we have questions that go without answers and at the same time hold on to truths that are eternal.  In grief, we experience both an absence and a presence of God.  How can this be? 

In my devotional earlier this week I shared something I came across in a commentary on this text that I think bears repeating.  It comes from Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota:

What is this statement doing in the midst of the book of Job? “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  It is a striking affirmation, particularly given what comes before it.  Job, bereft of children and wealth, accused by his so-called “friends” and covered with boils, falls into the depths of despair, wishing first for death and then for justice.  His family and his close friends have failed him.  Worst of all, the God whom he has known and served his whole life has now turned against him.  [Earlier in this same chapter, Job declared]: “He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree. He has kindled his wrath against me, and counts me as his adversary” (Job 19:10-11).

Where is Job to turn? Abandoned by friends and family, he turns to the only source of help left – he turns to the God whom he has just accused of destroying him: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Clinging to the God whom he also at the same time accuses -- this is the paradoxical stance of faith that Job takes. It is the posture of lament -- holding on to God with one hand and shaking your fist at God with the other; not letting God off the hook for one minute, but staying in relationship with that God. Job exemplifies that posture of lament, and it is precisely that refusal to give up on God that leads to moments of inexplicable hope in the midst of his overwhelming despair, hope that God will “remember” Job and “long for” him (Job 14:13-15); hope that his Redeemer lives and that in the end, Job himself will see God (Job 19:25-26).

Christians have struggled greatly with this profound paradox, judging themselves and/or one another as weak or rebellious when anger and confusion are expressed.  Some go so far as to not allow for grief, burying it under well-intentioned thoughts and words reflecting a kind of super-spiritualism that leaves no room for ever questioning God or expressing confusion or anger, heaping guilt upon themselves or others for such feelings or words.  That is not healthy.

If we are not to ever express deeper negative feelings toward God, someone should have told the writers of the Psalms.  Some of the Psalms are classified as “Songs of Lament,” including Psalm 69, which expresses the entire range of emotions, from anger and despair to hope and confidence. Here is how the Psalm begins:  Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck...  I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.  Many of us have experienced such feelings.  Toward the end of that very same Psalm we find these words: O God, protect me. I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving... you who seek God, let your hearts revive.  For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.  Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.  For God will save.

When –not if, when—we grieve, or others around us grieve, let it happen.  Please don’t suppress the feelings, express them.  That is part of the healing process.  Sometimes the best thing for us to do when others are grieving a loss is to just be quiet, to be present and listen, not overreacting to expressions of anger or confusion, but just listening.  The time will come for words of grace, compassion, and encouragement… but they usually need to come later.  Be patient.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote: We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.  We grieve.  We must grieve.  But we do not grieve as others do who have no hope. 

As we face death—our own or the death of loved ones—we may very well experience deep sorrow and anger and confusion, but we do so in the context of hope.  Our hope is not based on our own goodness, but on the goodness and grace of God.  While there remains great mystery regarding what happens at the time of death, we understand that Jesus has delivered us from sin and death, and that we will spend an eternity in His perfect presence, united with Him and reunited with all of the saints who have gone before us.  That is our hope and confidence.  Good grief, indeed!  Amen.

   November 2018   
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