The hardscrabble faith of grief is altogether different from an unbruised faith that has not been tried and tested by a firsthand experience of death, life’s most certain inevitability. If our world has been inverted by the death of one we love, for a while our faith may seem muddled as we ask hard questions that test the truth of what we say we believe.
When one we love dies, the raw fear that easily overwhelms our heart and spirit has little to do with the faith of grief. Our spiritual fortitude and forbearance are challenged by a fear that immobilizes us in the present, a fear that panics us about the future, a fear that threatens our emotional equilibrium, a fear that makes us teeter on the edge of despair, a fear that delights in our desperation. Whatever our grief-driven response to fear, in and of itself, fear has little to do with the conviction of our faith.
The faith of grief excels in perseverance. In the face of fear and the emotional turmoil of grief, like the Apostle Paul we tie a knot and hang on, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). When we grieve, every breath we take is an expression of our faith. We persevere until life moves forward into the future, “…for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
We measure the faith of grief by who we are becoming. We feel stronger and more capable, fortified for the rest of our life by our experience of grief. As the cycle of grief ends, we see more clearly who we are and where we have been. Through the presence of God, the faith of grief brings us full circle, to a place of new beginning on the other side of grief, “…think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4 CEB). The faith of grief is mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
The experience of David is a paradigm for the faith of grief.
After Nathan had gone home, The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.” David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
2 Samuel 12:15-23 NIV
Though our heart will always remember the one we love and now grieve, gradually the experience of death becomes part of the background of our life. When grief is no longer at the forefront of our every thought and we are at last focused more on the here and now rather than on the past, we find that our faith has a different mettle. We have a deeper spiritual connection to God. We know with certainty that through the presence of God, faith redeems our broken heart to new life.
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
Psalm 85:10-11 NIV