Grief & loss during the shutdown
Grieving with hope
We’re living in unusual times. In order to control the spread of COVID-19 we’re staying home as much as possible. People are working from home and some businesses are closed.
Some people have lost their jobs and are now unemployed. There are travel restrictions. Social activities and celebrations are cancelled. There is physical (social) distancing. We have less freedom. It’s almost like wartime. There’s economic gloom with the possibility of a depression. These are unprecedented times for us.
We’ve lost many of our freedoms and some of the things we thought were an essential part of life. We’ve lost our normal lifestyle.
Frank is aged 93 and lives alone in Ryde. He tells me that he feels locked up; like in jail. He said, “everyone is suffering”.
These are real losses of things that are important to us. They’re painful. Grief is the pain we feel after loss. It’s an emotional and physical response to stressful loss.
We experience grief and loss when an event or situation interrupts our normal life. It’s when life is abnormal. The loss causes grief that can last a long time. If the grief is processed we can move on to acceptance of the new normal life.
Components of grief
Grief is made up of several components that we all experience differently.
Shock and denial
The loss can be a shock to us, because life as we knew it has suddenly changed. We may feel numb or confused. We may want to ignore or avoid it. We think, “This can’t be happening to me”. That’s living in denial because we want our preferred reality.
We can get upset and angry. There can be emotional outbursts. We think, “Why me?” “Life’s not fair!” “Where’s God?” We might blame others. We can be irritable, anxious and fearful. And we can panic.
Mourning and tears
God gave us tears to express our sadness and sorrow. Jesus wept when He saw the impact of the death of Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). Sadness and tears are not the signs of weak faith, but normal and healthy responses to the brokenness of this world. It’s natural to mourn the losses and pain we experience in this life.
We can wonder if we could have done things differently. “If only ….”. “What if …”. We can feel guilt. We may make a promise to God for relief of the grief.
Despair and Depression
We can feel overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless and lonely. There’s an emptiness inside, a sadness and a lack of energy. We don’t want to get out of bed. We don’t feel like talking to others. We can be depressed. It can be difficult to participate in everyday life.
We can worry about the future. We can imagine the worst. “What if someone I know gets COVID-19?”
So, grief is normal, natural, and painful and it takes time to resolve. I got a shock when the specialist said I had cancer. And I blamed Adam and Eve. They’ve got a lot to answer for in this broken world! And at the moment we’ve all got grief that’s inflamed because the pandemic dominates the news. It dominates social media. And it dominates life. It’s overwhelming and out of our control.
We experience these components of grief in different orders and different combinations. It can be an emotional rollercoaster.
If the grief is processed we can accept the changes as the new normal situation for us. Even though we don’t like it, we learn to live with it. We adapt and readjust. We think, “I’m going to be OK”. The good days begin to outnumber the bad days. We start to look ahead and don’t dwell on the past.
Everyone will experience some type of grief and loss during their lifetime. It may be the loss of a job, or the break-up of a relationship, or the death of a loved one, or a shattered dream, or a massive disappointment, or an injury or illness. It’s a traumatic change of circumstances. To grieve is a normal and natural part of coming to terms with a loss. In various degrees, we are all in a season of grief right now during the shutdown.
Grief and loss in the Bible
There are many examples of grief and loss in the Bible. Since the fall, the Bible is full of loss and grief. For example, Naomi lost her income when her husband and sons died and there was no social security in Moab in those days. When she returned to Israel she said that she was bitter and empty because of this tragedy. And the injustice of Christ’s death was a tragic loss for His followers. There are many other examples of grief and loss in the Bible.
How can we cope with grief and loss? What does the Bible say?
Bring your grief to God
67 of the 150 psalms (45%) are laments of grief. For example, in Psalm 13 David has grief and loss because of a desperate situation due to an illness or his enemies.
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
David brings his complaint to God. There is repetition. How long will I suffer (v.1-2)? He feels abandoned, depressed and defeated. Today, people are asking “how long will the shutdown go for?”
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
David appeals for deliverance from death (v.3-4). His illness seems to be terminal or his enemy seems victorious, so he asks God to intervene.
5 But I trust in Your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in Your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for He has been good to me.
Then in his grief David chooses to trust in God (v.5-6). He realized that although God was silent, He still cares for His people. As David is confident that his prayer will be answered, he praises God.
In this psalm David releases his grief. He wrote a song about it. Some people write down their feelings in a journal. The principle is bring your grief to God. How much more should we do this because we know more about God than David did? We know that in Jesus, God suffered for our salvation. And that the Holy Spirit prays for us (Rom. 8:26-27). God is on our side! The Bible says, “Cast all your anxieties on Him [God] because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7NIV). That’s a great promise!
Grieve with hope
Death is a major cause of grief. Paul said he would have grieved if Epaphroditus had died (Phil. 2:27). So it’s right to grieve for a major loss. A passage about this kind of grief is, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Th. 4:13-14).
Christians are told not to grieve like unbelievers “who have no hope”. It’s a double negative. And the example given of this hope is the resurrection: because Jesus was resurrected from the grave, Christians who have died will also be resurrected with new bodies in the future. At the end of this passage, it says that believers are to encourage one another with these words of hope (1 Th. 4:18).
In this passage the context of the word “hope” is the resurrection of believers who have died. The other three occasions of the word “hope” in 1 Thessalonians also refer to the culmination of our salvation at the rapture, when Jesus returns for His people (1:3; 2:19; 5:8). It includes the prospect of reunion with those who have died (2 Th. 2:1). Death isn’t a permanent separation. So those in grief are to look at the big picture. This life is not all there is, a great future lies ahead. The hope of heaven helps us endure pain on earth.
The hope of heaven helps us endure pain on earth.
What a contrast, we can either grieve with hope or grieve without hope! The current outreach poster is based on the fact that during the COVID -19 pandemic, we need a hope that lasts beyond death. And the only hope worth having is in Jesus. The image is the map of COVID-19 cases across the world from John Hopkins University, which they update every day. It says, “This will be hard, but there is hope”. The hard part is the grief and loss we are all experiencing during the shutdown. The hope comes from Jesus. It’s because “Jesus died and rose again” (1 Th. 4:14). And the hope comes from the Bible; “the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” (Rom. 15:4NLT). Note that this hope is linked to God’s promises.
Grieve with certainty
According to Thayer’s Greek Lexion, the Greek noun translated “hope” (Strongs #1680) means “a confident expectation” of what God has promised. It’s a certainty, not an uncertainty. It’s not just a wish or desire that may not eventuate, which is how we mainly use the word “hope” in everyday language. Biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.
So, there are two ways to grieve: to grieve with hope or to grieve without hope. The first means to grieve with certainty, not uncertainty. To grieve with the certainty of God’s promises.
In February, 4 children were killed at Oatlands in Sydney by a car driven by a drunk driver. At a memorial at the site they said the Lord’s prayer and the mother of three of the children, Leila Abdallah, said that she forgave the driver. That’s grieving with hope, with the certainty of God’s promises.
The second way means to grieve with uncertainty, not certainty. To grieve without the certainty of God’s promises.
For example, imagine an elderly person with no faith in God. Their physical life is ebbing away. They can no longer do the things they used to do. They can only look back at how life was, because the present and the future are bleak. The only certainty they have is death.
The certainty of God’s promises
God promised Abraham many descendants and that came true with the nation of Israel. Likewise, the Bible says that believers (“who have fled to Him [God] for refuge”) “can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us [eternal salvation]. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:18-20NLT). Like an anchor holding a ship safely in position, our hope (trust) in Christ guarantees our safety.
While a ship’s anchor goes down to the ocean bed, our “anchor” goes up to heaven where Jesus intercedes for us. That’s why God’s promises and our eternal salvation are a certainty. He’ll do what He said He would do.
That’s why we should “hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise” (Heb. 10:23). It’s our certain anchor in the uncertain sea of grief around us today.
Only God knows all the answers
Job asked why do the righteous suffer? And God answered him by asking many questions about creation to show that God knew much more than Job (Job 38-39). Job didn’t know the answers, and we don’t either. Job is told to trust in the all-seeing, all-powerful God who rules the universe. The main issue is Job’s relationship with God. We are to trust in our God who knows everything. (And we know from the book of Job that some suffering is the result of the unseen spiritual conflict between God and Satan. So, we can also blame Satan for our suffering!)
The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Only God knows everything. Who you know is more important than what you know. If you know that God is good and loving and if you have a personal relationship with Him, you can live with unanswered questions and learn to cope with any loss.
About 22 years ago the government closed our local high school. We opposed this because the students were the main source of our youth group and our evening church service. But God let it happen. And our church suffered the consequences. I don’t know why God let it happen. It’s one of life’s mysteries. The only good thing that I am aware of is that my daughter found a Christian husband at her new school.
Lessons for us
The shutdown has made life difficult and stressful. Let’s recognize that grief is a normal human reaction to painful loss. Everyone is experiencing it in some way now whether it’s shock, denial, anger, tears, bargaining, despair, depression or anxiety. It’s good to name it. To acknowledge our feelings and emotions. I told my GP (or family physician) that I was going through grief and loss when facing the cancer surgery.
Don’t grieve alone. Bring it to God like David. Paul said that the purpose of his troubles was so “we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9). Let’s bring it to God in prayer.
At this time everyone is grieving simultaneously. We’re in this together. The Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). This means accepting encouragement from others and sharing grief with others like Jesus did with Mary and Martha (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Don’t grieve without hope or certainty. Paul said we are to “Grieve with hope”, which means to grieve with the certainty of God’s promises. That’s why in hardship Paul was “sorrowful [grieving], yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). There was grief because of his circumstances. But there was joy because of God’s promises. Let’s look at the big picture, not just our immediate circumstances.
To grieve with the certainty of God’s promises we need to know what the promises are. This means reading the Bible to remind us of these promises (Appendix).
The shutdown is a test of our Christian faith.
The shutdown is a test of our Christian faith. Are we grieving with the certainty of God’s promises? Or are we grieving without them like many others? Are we coming to acceptance of the changes brought by the shutdown so that our spiritual life isn’t hindered?
Are we moving to acceptance of the new normal? Although the world seems to be out of control, God is in control. He rules the universe. Christians should have a resilience that unbelievers don’t have. We have the word of God. That’s how the OT prophets endured suffering. We have God’s promises. And we have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible says that unbelievers are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). They don’t have the certainty of God’s promises. They don’t have God’s help to get through the grief. If that’s you, talk about it with someone who follows Jesus. The pandemic is a reminder that we’re not in control, but God is. It’s a time to get right with God.
It’s a time to get right with God.
Like David, let’s bring our grief to God and trust in Him. Like Paul, let’s grieve with hope, which means to grieve with the certainty of God’s promises. And always live with the certainty of God’s promises. Like God’s lesson for Job, let’s realize that only God has all the answers.
As we face another day of shutdown, we can look back at how things used to be with grief, but those who trust in Jesus can look around and be sustained by God’s wonderful promises and look ahead with confidence to the perfect future He has promised of eternity with God. Finally, God’s promises are the vaccine for grief.
God’s promises are the vaccine for grief
Appendix: Some of God’s promises in the New Testament
The promises given to Abraham and his descendants show us that:
– God keeps His promises like He did for Abraham,
– Jesus is the promised Messiah, and
– All God’s promises are fulfilled through Jesus
The promises given to believers include:
– Eternal life (Salvation),
– The Holy Spirit,
– Being children of God, and
– The second coming of Christ (resurrection)
Beginning with the promise of “no condemnation” and ending with the promise of “no separation,” Romans 8 has at least 14 promises for Christians: We are not condemned to be punished (v. 1); we have been freed from the power of sin (v. 2); we have life and peace (v. 6); we are led by the Holy Spirit (v. 14); we have fellowship with God (vv. 14-16); we have an inheritance (v. 17); we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23); the Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27); God is in control, and working for our good (v. 28); we will be transformed to be like Christ (v. 29); we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30); God is for us, and no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us (vv. 31-34); God will give us all things (v. 32); nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39).
Written, April 2020
Also see: A new harmful mutated virus
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Trials, struggles and COVID-19
How to respond to the coronavirus pandemic
War on coronavirus
Three lessons from COVID-19
What does the Bible say about a major disaster like COVID-19?