Good Grief

Genesis 23OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Good Grief.”  It was a favorite saying of the Charles Schultz character, Charlie Brown.  And it is a curious expression.  What kind of grief is “good”?

Let me ask you: What image comes to your mind when you think of the term “grief”?

  • Perhaps a bouquet of flowers being laid on a freshly dug grave.
  • Maybe a night of holding a loved one’s pillow, trying in vain to get some sleep.
  • Maybe it’s the tears that seem to flow endlessly, or a pain in the gut that is too deep to describe in words.

A good friend of mine from California, Louise Johnson once shared with me a poem her daughter had written about a grief experience in her own life.

Dead Man's Float

This is an apt picture of how grief can feel.   So, how can an emotion that feels that bad… ever be called “good”?

Genesis 23 records the death of Abraham’s wife, Sarah.

Sarah died.  Stop and think that over for a moment.  It is so easy to read a passage from the Bible, like this one, and not even attempt to feel what the Biblical personalities are emoting.  If you want your Bible reading and study to come alive… you need to do more than just parse verbs or examine sentence structure, you need to use your senses and emotions as you read.

Picture what Abraham is going through.  He is wailing in pain over the loss of the great love of his life.  Abraham was a man that proved his faith in God over and over again throughout his long life.  Will he remain faithful to God after he lays the one he loves to rest?  A good question for us would be this: What can we learn from how a godly person deals with grief?

1)  We can accept that grief is a healthy and normal part of life.  The Bible displays this over and over.

  • When the Patriarch Jacob died, they mourned for him 7 days.
  • The OT book of Lamentations, depicts the mourning of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • By the graveside of Lazarus it is recorded in the book of John that “Jesus wept.”
  • In the book of Revelation, though God will in the end wipe them all away, there will be, until that moment, tears in the eyes of his saints.

As the old Gordon Jenson song said: “Tears are a language, God understands.”

2)  The second lesson we learn from this text is that we are to remember to move from personal grief to public memorial.

The text here doesn’t say how long Abraham grieved for Sarah. It may have been weeks or months. It does, however, have this to say in Genesis 23:3: “Then Abraham rose from before his dead…”

There came a time to emerge from private grief.  He reached a moment when he summoned the courage to step up from mourning in solitude and say something to the world.  Ray Stedman writes that verse 3 “signified a squaring of the shoulder, a lifting up of the eye, a firming of the step, a facing of life again…” And as he emerged from that private grief… the first thing Abraham decided to do was to create a memorial for Sarah.

Genesis 23:3-6                                                                                                                                                                Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, [4] “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” [5] The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, [6] “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.”

You may ask yourself, reading this text, why all the detail about the burial place?  It is written to tell us to what great lengths Abraham was willing to go to make sure Sarah’s memory would be preserved.  He did a great job picking out the plot by the way.  Sarah’s grave is one of the few in Palestine that has been authenticated today.  This cave, which was the burial place of Abraham, Jacob and Leah as well as Sarah, can still be visited today.  There is a mosque over the location, but it is believed to be the site of the cave.  Abraham succeeded in reminding the world of who Sarah was.

3)  The next thing grief can do is to help us continue to walk the path the Lord has laid out for us.

Did you catch how Abraham went on with God’s purpose for his life in this passage?  It’s subtle.

Genesis 23:17-18                                                                                                                                                             So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over [18] to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

Did you catch it?

God had made two promises to Abraham.  One was that he would give him and Sarah a son.  That son would father a multitude of people.  That promise had been fulfilled 37 years ago.

The second promise God made to Abraham was land. He was going to give him the land of Canaan as a possession for his descendants.  Abraham is now 137 years old. Up to chapter 22, how much of the land of Canaan did Abraham own?   Zero.   By purchasing this land, Abraham is advancing the purposes of God.

When we lose someone it is so easy to not want to go on. It is hard without their support and love. But if God still has us here on planet earth, it is because He still has a purpose for us down here and we had best get at it.

And grief can actually help sharpen our focus in life. We understand now how fragile life is. We know that we have a limited time to fulfill our purpose for being here. Grief can spur us to serve those around us.

“Good” grief?  Absolutely.  It is an emotion created by God with much benefit to our souls.  Don’t struggle.  Don’t run and hide.  Trust God to see you through it.

Blessings!

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