The following is a response to the book A Grief Observed, written for a class I took while at CBC.
A Grief Observed: Pains of Life
The question of God’s involvement in pain and suffering is an age-old question. As people struggle through the pains of life, they ask, “Where is God? Does He even care?” I have asked these questions myself and wondered the same thoughts. What do we do when we face grief? How do we respond to God during these times? Though I am young in grief, I have noticed three facts concerning times of grief and loss: times of loss reveal our level of commitment to and trust in God, the grieving process must be completed to achieve resolution, and finally, there are some things that we simply do not have the capacity to understand.
If you’ve ever played the trust game, you can attest that it is much easier to say, “Trust me,” than to be the one who must trust. It is much easier to verbalize trust or the need for trust than to live it out. Trust is revealed by experience. One can claim to trust, but it is not validated until it has been proven by experience. One of the experiences in life that reveals our level of trust in God is times of suffering. Suffering and grief and loss show us what we really believe about God. Lewis writes,
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?
It is during these times that we discover if we truly believe that God is good and caring and ever-present. These situations force us to see what we really think – deep down, beyond the illusions that we make for ourselves. I used to believe that God allows situations in our life to test us – to find out where our heart really is. C.S. Lewis makes a statement that shifted my way of viewing God’s “tests.” Concerning a time of grief, he writes, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.” God tests us – not so He can discover the true nature of our hearts – but that we may discover it. He wants our hearts to be willingly and wholly His.
Another aspect of suffering and loss is submitting to the process. By “process“ I mean a couple of things: first, that we submit to the natural process of grief; and second, that we submit to God’s process in our lives. In counseling and therapy classes, students our taught the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I have observed these stages many times at different points in my own life. It is important for a person to experience each stage and realize that it is a normal part of grieving rather than to try to rush past the feelings and “be ok.” It is also critical to realize that God is at work in our lives even in loss and suffering. In spite of the questions that come as a result of grief, we must believe that God has purpose behind it, even if He is not the cause of it. Lewis uses the analogy of going to the dentist. He talks of how people do not enjoy going to the dentist, but they must go if they are to have healthy teeth. Using the dentist analogy, he explains how God can be good and still allow us to go through suffering:
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.
God is more interested in our becoming than in our happiness. If it requires suffering to form us, than He will allow it. Does this make Him bad? No, it makes Him good and loving. We must remember this and submit to the process.
In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes, “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.” I have found this to be true in my own life. I build my belief system, I seek out the truth of God’s character, and then something happens in life that forces me to reevaluate my views. Everything I experience in life can tell me something about myself and something about God. In times of suffering and loss, our perception of God can be strained. This is when we begin asking the “difficult questions.” Having asked some of these questions myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some things in life we just cannot understand. I must truly believe that His ways and thoughts are higher than mine and that they are good. Otherwise, I will continue on searching for answers that cannot be found, leaving myself dissatisfied and confused. C.S. Lewis reveals his experience with questioning and the silence that seemed to ensue,
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.
It is when we face this silence that we must trust beyond what we see, understand, or feel. If we could understand everything God did, then we would not have such an impressive god. His ways are beyond understanding.
Pain is never fun. There’s never a moment that we really desire pain, but pain can be for our benefit. We must cling to the truth that God is not only sovereign and in control, but He is also good and loving. It is during these times that we truly reveal our commitment to God and our level of trust in Him. We must submit to His process and complete the stages of grief in order to handle grief healthily. Finally, we must come to the place where we realize that we cannot understand everything. There will be situations in life that are beyond our control and must be accepted – and we won’t understand. But we can take comfort in the fact that while we do not understand it all, He does. He knows, He understands, and He cares.