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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

I have to confess that between my kids and my marriage, losing my father 9 years ago, and simply growing in my understanding of the gospel, I have become quite a softy. I feel like I come to tears nearly every day now, which, as an ISTJ who grew up being taught to never take anything personally, is just not like who I have been most of my life. I was moved to tears many times in Hereafter. Yes, it can be contrived and the film’s depiction of the hereafter is vague and unbiblical, but I got into it and I genuinely appreciated this movie. This is a film not truly about the hereafter but more about loss and loneliness and the question of whether the hereafter is a solution or not.

Loss

I thought Clint Eastwood did a great job with this movie in helping you feel a sense of the loss that comes with losing a loved one, that loss that accompanies death. Marcus and Jason’s story absolutely crushed me. This might have been helped by the fact that I have 2 sets of twins of my own, but I really felt the ache of Marcus and was gripped by every scene. The movie’s portrayal of the events of the tsunamis of 2004, and of deaths of individuals, all felt meaningful and weighty. There’s another event that happens later in the movie that I was struck by the weight of even the ambiguous loss wrapped up in it. In our post 9-11 world, not many things shock us anymore. Earthquakes kills thousands in China and Haiti, floods kill many across America, soldiers die daily, and terrorists blow up busses. On top of those things, news outlets sensationalize the negative and we keep being more and more desensitized in the overload of bad news. But when a big event happens in the middle of the movie, it is not merely glossed over and I was surprised by how Eastwood even used it to give meaning to death and help you feel the loss in it by how people react and engage with that event.

Loneliness

As well as loss and the weight of death were portrayed, they were simply a means to get to another theme: loneliness and the sense of being alone. This is a pervading theme that I saw very early on. The 3 main characters are searching not merely for answers but for relationship. Marcus wants his brother back and feels lost without him, utterly isolated. George (Matt Damon) is completely isolated by his ability to speak for the dead. His gift isolates him from every relationship except for his brother, (excellently played by Jay Mohr) who truly is for him and loves George but still doesn’t get it. Marie has a near death experience in the tsunami tragedy and seemingly no one believes her or understands what she went through and she is subsequently ostracized. Ultimately, this movie is not a movie about the hereafter. The hereafter only acts as a means of drawing out the problem of loneliness. When death happens, we are crushed and hurt but we are lonely. In my experience with my dad and every experience thereafter, loneliness has been the overriding emotion associated with death. I want him back! I miss him dearly! Can’t I just have a few minutes with him? Why didn’t I appreciate him more! Hereafter even goes beyond that in demonstrating loneliness felt not merely from death but from life in general. Marie and George don’t even have relationships from which to even feel that deep loss from. They don’t have relationships where they can truly be themselves.

This sounds depressing, why see this movie?

We all feel the loneliness and loss that Hereafter displays at some point or another, many of us more than others. Deep down though, we all feel this loss and loneliness deeply. We long for intimacy. We desire friendships and relationship where we can be ourselves. But we’re disappointed time and time again. Friendships change. Our marriages struggle. People let us down. We let others down in spite of our best efforts. We lose friends and parents. Our wives get breast cancer. Relationships just seem to erode or get derailed by life. So is that just how life is and we just gut it out? We know it should be different. We long for more for a reason. What is our hope? Hereafter presents the afterlife as a sort of peaceful weightlessness and reunion with the only backing being that’s what people see in near-death experiences. Even if that was true, is it enough? I think it’s weak. I think there’s more.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3 ESV)

We don’t have to scrape and claw for answers in the vague near-death experiences, the God who is not silent has given us guidance in the Bible. What do we learn there? Religion is the solution, seriously? Nope. You learn that we were made for relationship with the triune God of the Universe. But we rejected Him. We fell into sin which broke that relationship. But God the Father send His precious, eternal Son to suffer and die to get us back. Now God has opened the door and is waiting with a lavish grace and mercy ready to take you as you are. He knows you better that you do and through Jesus He is for you. The good news of the Bible is not another 4 step method to happiness but restoration of relationships. First, God restores us to Himself. Through that restoration, our relationships with people can be redeemed. That is only way through the ache of loneliness and loss and despair that Hereafter beautifully presents to us.

Few delights can equal the mere presence of One whom we fully trust. – George MacDonald

Funny One-Minute Review of Hereafter from the Rabbit Room

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This is part 2 on Job 1-25, read part 1 for the foundation and the initial discussion of grieving.

Grieving is hard (continued)

Why do we need such grief? Death feels wrong and reveals how we were never meant to experience it apart from the destructive result of our sin. Yes, Jesus defeated ultimate death at the cross. Yes, death has lost its sting. But it is still loss. To lose someone close hurts immensely. To merely blow off any loss in this life as trivial, is to be callous. Suffering is not good and Jesus came to ultimately wipe it away but while we walk in this earthly life, in our flesh, suffering is our life and our calling. However, nowhere does God call us to become stoic unemotional beings. Jesus certainly was not a stoic when walking in our shoes. Jesus empathizes time and time again. This life will always be bittersweet: news of a friend’s stillborn baby coupled with news of the birth of a child to friends after years of battling infertility. We might enjoy a delicious steak and glass of wine for dinner one evening but then deal with immense ailments the next month. We have sweet times of closeness with God followed by hard times when we can question if He is really there. We get enough of a glimpse of the goodness of God but not so much so that we would cling to this life. Grieve with Job when you read the book of his namesake. His friends do this initially but then make foolish attempts to reason with him.

Grief is not assuaged by logic

Job’s friends do not speak for a whole week when first visiting him. This is an enormous grace on their part! However, they then try to diagnose Job’s problems, try to fix it, at the same time they are trying to understand this harsh episode of suffering for themselves. They are his friends! They are foolish, and it is so easy to forget that they are his friends who are trying to enter into his suffering. The problem is that they try to fix things, to reason with Job. They end up isolating him even more. Even if they were completely right, would it matter? Would it have been helpful to Job? I don’t think so. Job needed encouragement, even if that meant letting him process thoughts that were not necessarily truth. I am not professing to completely understand the book of Job, but I do have some understanding of grief. The way Job’s friends do not listen to him would likely have made a scoffer of me as well. Job did not need reproof or reasons or logic to get through the fog. His friends did not get this.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27 ESV)

Grief is only assuaged by our Father

Notice that I said assuaged not answered. Does God tell Job about His confrontation with Satan? Does God truly answer any of Job’s questions? Nope. In His words to Job, God seems to merely assert His infinite power and wisdom over Job’s. However, God reveals Himself to Job! God meets Job exactly where He is at! Even if God did not restore much of what Job lost, I think Job would have been satisfied. Job 38-42 is not a prescription, just as grief and loss are not the same for each of us. To me it reveals that suffering is ultimately answered not in logic or in reason or in some pat answer but through the presence of God by way of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel gives us the hope we need to freely approach our heavenly Father with our hurts and loneliness. The Gospel gives us the knowledge that we have not merely a savior but also a brother in Jesus who walked in our shoes, knows us, understands us, empathizes with us, even in our loneliness. The Gospel gives us the truth that we have the comfort in us, the Holy Spirit; a presence better than even having Jesus with us in the flesh. Job shows us that grief is not easy, is part of being human, and that ultimately assuaging it is a job of God and God alone.

Why did Job suffer? A refinement of his righteousness? Drawing him more personally near to God? Glorifying God and rubbing Satan’s face in the sand of Job’s choosing the truth and choosing to still wrestle with and walk with God? Giving us a small faint picture of the innocent suffering of Jesus in Job’s life? The answers don’t nearly assuage as much as meeting God personally and intimately.

Additional resource: “Job: Five Sermons on Suffering”

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In my reading plan the past 2 weeks I have been immersed in the book of Job. It is a challenging book, difficult to fly through Job, taking what is said at face value. It’s easy to judge Job and focus too much on his subtle self-entitlement. This time through, I attempted to focus on empathizing with Job, trying to feel what he feels. It’s been helpful, revealing new insights that have hit me. I have to set up the important foundation first though.

The Foundation

In the first 2 chapters we are given a glimpse of God’s confrontation with Satan. God calls Satan’s attention to Job and his righteous life. Satan scoffs and says that this is because Job’s life is easy. Satan says to take away what he cares about and he’ll spit in God’s face. God then gives Satan permission to do anything but harm Job physically. The next thing we know is that Job loses his livestock, servants, and his children all die. Job mourns but still praises God. Satan again comes before God and again scoffs at God defending Job. Satan is then given permission to afflict Job with sickness but not to kill him. Job is then afflicted with sores and skin problems and the book moves on the dialog with Job and his friends. This is huge. Job never gets this glimpse. Job never even gets this confrontation explained to him later (which is awesome, stay tuned). We do. Why? A major reason is because we must see that God does not initiate suffering in Job’s life because of any particular sin in his life. Yes, Job has sin. Yes, God draws out some issues through Job’s suffering. But it was not primarily due to sin in Job’s life.

All the back and forth then in chapters 4 through 25 are not, honestly, helpful. Job and his friends can’t see what we see and so it quickly devolves into trying to tie up Job’s suffering in a neat a tidy equation: Job + suffering = Job’s unrepentance from sin. The disciples do the same thing in Luke 13:1-4 and get rebuked by Jesus in doing so. We need to be careful of this equation when reading Job as well as when trying to interpret the dialog between Job and his friends. Therefore, In light of this foundation, what did I notice?

Grieving is hard

We cannot gloss over what Job is enduring emotionally or water down the heavy fog of grief. Grief is different for each of us but, for me, I didn’t feel like myself for 6 months after my dad passed away. I felt cut off and isolated, but there was nothing I could do. Most of it I just didn’t even notice. I was very lonely. My wife was an irreplaceable presence and encouragement, but this was a much deeper loneliness. I was not angry with God or going through depression, I just felt like I was in a cloud of hurt and numbness. Would I have said that to you at the time? No, I couldn’t put words to it. Even the loneliness that grief drew out in me is much easier to see in retrospect.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:18-19 ESV)

Think about this in Job’s life. He has lost all of his kids and is disunified with his wife. Think about what kind of fog that would bring on. Think about the loneliness you would feel. So much of what Job expresses in Chapters 4 through 25 surrounds how isolated and cut off he feels. Why does he long for death in Job 3 and 6-7? Do we think this righteous example of a man is merely whining and complaining? This man is broken and in a massive dark cloud!

What then was the point of Job’s suffering? You’ll have to stay tuned. It’s not an easy answer at face value nor can I say I understand it fully.

Part 2: Dealing with Grief

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