Good Grief?

by

I suppose I grew up like most of my generation, reading and watching Charlie Brown and the rest of the cast of Charles Schultz’s PEANUTS. Schultz had an uncanny ability to relate a sea of emotion in a cup of dialogue. One of the ways he accomplished this was through the use of common yet memorable phrases. One such phrase that was frequently on the lips of the PEANUTS gallery was the phrase, “Good grief!” Today, as I reflect upon the times this phrase is used, I ask myself if indeed there could be such a thing as “good grief.” 

Normally, we associate grief with malevolent news and behaviors. We grieve at the devastation of tsunamis and earthquakes. We grieve over fatal terrorist attacks and illnesses. Surely in light of such awful circumstances no one would be inclined to speak of grief as a good thing. And therefore, at first consideration the phrase appears oxymoronic. There could not truly be anything good about grief, for to experience grief is to have had something unwanted or unexpected happen. And yet, upon further consideration we see that a biblical understanding of grief would indeed cause one to view it as good. Therefore, “good grief” could be called one of the glorious paradoxes of Scripture. 

The Bible tells us that God makes use of grief in this life for His glorious purposes and our good. While no one cheerfully invites grief, the Bible tells us on several accounts that grief in the life of the Christian is a good thing. For starters, grief is good when it is over sin (Ps. 51:3–4). Second, grief is good when it leads us to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9). And of particular interest to me is that grief is good when it awakens in us our longings for heaven and the final consummation where Christ promises to make all things new (Rev. 21:1–5). 

In the consummation, according to Revelation 21:4, grief shall be revealed for what it is — “a former thing.” Grief belongs to the land of sin. When Adam and Eve, and even the world into which they were created, knew not sin, they knew not grief. And yet, since the entry of sin into the world, not only have all experienced sin because of Adam (Rom. 5:19), but all have experienced the grief that sin brings. For, wherever sin is, grief will inevitably — and soon — follow. None, not even God, is immune to the grief caused by sin. Sin grieves God the Father (Gen. 6:5–6). Sin grieves God the Son (Mark 3:5). Sin grieves God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). Sin grieves human beings created in the image of God (Rom. 7:17–24). Sin also grieves a world created to reflect God’s glory (Rom. 8:19–22). 

The longing of the world, even the longings of our hearts, is for the removal of grief. The desire to eliminate grief is common to all humankind. This is the cry of the pantheist (someone who believes that God and the universe are the same) as well as the atheist. Yet, it is Christians who understand that the longing for the removal of grief that is common to all is actually a longing for the removal of sin. We understand that grief exists because sin exists. When sin is no more, so too will grief cease to exist. Consequently, along with the eradication of grief will be the eradication of those manifestations associated with grief, namely, crying, mourning, pain, and death. All these will be among the “former things,” for they will have found their end in the end of grief. 

The goal of the consummation of God’s kingdom is the restoration of paradise. And yet it is not just a restoration, for the latter glory shall be greater than the former glory (Hag. 2:9). For as it was in the beginning, so will it be even better in the end. For example, like the pre-fall garden of Eden, there will be no grief in the new heavens and the new earth. You see, Adam and Eve, though they dwelt in paradise, existed in a state that included the possibility of grief. On the other hand, the glorified saints in the new heaven and new earth will exist in a state without the possibility of grief. And in this communion, God will dwell in the midst of His people — not just one man and one woman — but it shall be an innumerable host of men and women from every corner of creation. The glorious covenantal promise shall be invoked and fulfilled as God Himself will be our God, and we will be His people. The intensity of this communion is that not only will sin be no more, but no more shall be the ravages of sin, like sickness, disease, sorrow, and disaster. Gone from our existence will be the grief that so plagues our reality because of these things. They all shall be but former things, things that belong to the life that was governed by sin but is no more. The people of God will rejoice in the new Jerusalem and be glad, for “no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress” (Isa. 65:19). 

Nevertheless, today we live in a grief-riddled world, because we live in a sin-stricken world. In light of this reality, what should be the Christian’s manner of dealing with grief and placing it in its proper perspective? As Christians, we do not grieve as the world grieves, but rather we grieve unto glory (1 Thess. 4:13). That is, we understand that our grief in this life is working out for us a greater weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Subsequently, it is grief in this life that causes us to yearn and long for the griefless life of eternity. It was Charles Spurgeon who wrote:

O Christian, antedate heaven for a few years. Within a very little time thou shalt be rid of all thy trials and thy troubles. Thine eyes now suffused with tears shall weep no longer. Thou shall gaze in ineffable rapture upon the splendour of Him who sits upon the throne.”

 If grief in this life makes the griefless life all the more appealing, may we endure this life patiently knowing that such is working out an eternal joy for God’s glory and our good. Let us antedate heaven and be assured that every drop of tear in this life only serves as a reminder that one day tears will be but a faded memory as the Lord himself will give us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3 kjv). If this is the eternal end of the grief we are called to endure momentarily, no wonder we are fond of saying, “Good grief!”  

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