This blog has afforded me a number of privileges, the greatest of which has been the connections I’ve made with those in the blogging community who are grieving. Grieving hard.
Young woman who have lost their spouses. Suicides. One man whose wife was raped then murdered. Miscarriages. Then, there are the slow deaths from dementia / Alzheimer’s / cancer, and the limbo of wondering, “What is wrong?” as the dementia turns to anger, abuse and eventual death.
Tragedies. All. Darkness I’ve been privileged to feel.
Many have expressed that they’ve wrestled with the “why” that God doesn’t answer.
The “why” that expects a response. The “why” that pastors say will one day be answered in the next life, when our perspective is clearer and our hearts are closer to God. The “why” that some Christians claim is soothed by the soft, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. And others dismiss because they know with certainty that death was somehow “God’s will.”
Yet, for many believers, and nonbelievers, the answer to this why cannot hold out to the next life. For too many this “why” is answered, not by the soft, quiet voice of the Spirit, but by the darkness of silence.
A “why” that is only multiplied by silence. A “why” that grows into disbelief and continues to be solidified by the silence that started it.
The other week we held the funeral for a 50 year old that was killed in a motorcycle accident at our funeral home.
What made this particular situation more tragic wasn’t just the way he died, but the fact that he left his wife, young son and even his father behind.
As I was parking the family vehicles in the procession line, I spoke with the deceased’s mother-in-law for about 10 minutes.
She wanted to talk and I wanted to listen.
She explained to me that, as there were no witnesses to the accident, the theory is that he lost control of his cycle as a result of a deer jumping out in front of him, causing him to attempt an evasive maneuver and lose control of his cycle.
The mother-in-law explained that nobody knows for sure a deer caused him to lose control – as there were no witnesses — but given his superior riding ability, his familiarity with the specific road he was on, and the fact that there were skid marks at the place of his accident all seem to support the theory that he was lost control while attempting to avoid something … that something probably being a deer.
Unknown and unexplainable deaths can often lead to a grey and confusing grief. I’ve noticed that grief works its way through a person in a slightly healthier manner when it has some explanation, but when there isn’t an explanation … it just sits like a morning fog.
The forever question of “How did he die?” was answered not with a “real” answer, but with an answer that sufficed … that somehow made the grief that would otherwise be grey and confusing into something something slightly more healthy. It was an answer that we “imagined” from the best evidence we could supply. An answer from our own imaginations.
And I wonder how often the heavy “whys” of death and God aren’t just answered by our own imaginations. I wonder how often we simply speculate based on our knowledge that God is good, that death is bad, the man is somewhat free to mess up … that s*** happens. And after convincing ourselves numerous times over, we simply come to believe that our imagined answer is “the truth.”
The silence to the “why” is so maddening that we just fill it with answers of our own making.
And maybe it’s somehow healthy for us.
And then I wonder if the silence to our “why” might just be due to the fact that God has no answer. Maybe he’s not there at all. Or, maybe we’re asking a question that’s inspired by something that has no response.
Few Christians are familiar with the term “orthopathos.”
We’re familiar with orthodoxy, which is “thinking like Jesus”. And many of us hope to be “orthodox.”
Some of us have heard of the term orthopraxy, which is “acting like Jesus”.
But orthopathos, which means “feeling the feelings of Jesus” is an idea that few of us are familiar with because so few of us believe He actually feels.
It’s said that we become like the object/person we worship. And when you worship God, you become like who or what you think He is.
Do you worship God as patient?
Do you worship God as just?
Do you worship God as love?
You will eventually become all these things if you believe they are apart of God’s character.
What happens when you see God as immutable … as unchangeable?
What happens when you see God as impassible … as emotionless?
So many Christian traditions believe that God is utterly unable to change and utterly unaffected by emotion. Should it be a surprise that so many of us become unmoved and emotionally repressed?
So, when we say “orthopathos” most Christians think that the “proper way to feel like God” is to feel nothing at all. To never grieve, to never have joy, to never get angry … because the One they worship, the One they are trying to reflect has no emotion Himself.
The ultimate example of orthopathos is found on the cross. The prophet Isaiah, in what is perhaps one of the more powerful prophetic utterances of the Old Testament writes,
“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering,
and familiar with pain. …
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities ….
This laying on of the iniquity, bearing of our suffering, this taking of our pain, this familiarity with pain, this man of suffering who took so much of the world’s grief into his heart that it’s recorded in Mark 13:34:
“”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.
Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death!
This wasn’t Jesus being punished by the Father per se, but Jesus taking the heart of the Father in human form by seeing what God sees, acting as God would act and ultimately feeling like God feels. It was the ultimate act of representing the Father in human form!
And then, I believe, Jesus died, not from the wounds of the cross, but from the wounds of the heart.
Sure, we can begin to understand right thinking, we can begin to understand right action, but who can feel the heart of God and live?
Why don’t Christians feel sorrow? There’s a couple reasons: 1.) our theology doesn’t allow for it and so 2.), we think it’s unlike our God if we do so.
Wendell Berry’s famed literature character “Jayber Crow” states this:
I prayed to know in my heart His love for the world, and this was my most prideful, foolish, and dangerous prayer. It was my step into the abyss. As soon as I prayed it, I knew that I would die. I knew the old wrong and the death that lay in the world. Just a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow. …. And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.
Some of us will feel God’s missional love for the world, but all of us will feel the sorrow of death. And it’s high time that we as Christians believe it’s okay to sorrow. It’s high time we believe it’s okay to weep, for when we do so we aren’t becoming unlike our God; we are, in fact, worshiping.