Isaiah 38:13-14 (ESV)
I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
from day to night you bring me to an end.
Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
In Isaiah 38 King Hezekiah is told to set his house in order because he is going to die. His response is to cry out to the Lord in deep grief. God responds by sending him a message through Isaiah that he will extend his life fifteen years. Half of the chapter, verses 10-20, is made up of a song Hezekiah wrote in response to his healing. It is, “a writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness” (Is 38:9).
I find it fascinating how different Hezekiah’s song is from what one would expect in 21st Century American culture. If we were healed from a serious sickness, and our life was extended, our song would be filled with praise, gratitude, and celebration. We would hear about the greatness of God and the blessing of life. Hezekiah’s song is centered mostly on the pain and despair of facing death. Praise is the culmination of the song, but it actually makes up a small part of it.
Our culture has increasingly moved toward denying the pain of grief. We don’t want funerals, we want memorial services. We don’t want to weep over loss, we want to celebrate life. We don’t want to think about what we are missing, or the pain of death. We want to focus on the hope of life after death. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1Thess 4:13). Notice that he did not say, “…that you may not grieve.” He said, “…that you may not grieve according to the same manner or degree as those who have not hope.” Our little word “as” is the translation of the Greek word kathos. It means “according to the same manner or degree as.”
I fear that we read Paul and assume that he is saying that believers should not grieve. But every loss is a grief. The loss of a job is a grief. The loss of health is a grief. The loss of mobility is a grief. The loss of a loved one is a deep grief. You don’t just get over that because you are told not to grieve, or because you know you will see them again someday. It is still a loss. You may see then again someday, but you will not see them for a long time. That is a grief.
The pain of loss is real. Some cultures deal with that better than others. I had a Native American funeral several years ago. The family grieved the whole day and night before the funeral with loud wailing and tears. She was a believer and several of her family were believers, but they wailed at their loss. I read a story recently of a man who returned the ashes of a loved one to her home country to be buried. When he entered the house the entire family wept and wailed over their loss. There is deep loss, and with loss is grief and emotion.
As believers, we do not grieve to the same degree as those who have not hope, but that does not mean that we do not grieve. Even in Hezekiah’s healing, he grieved his sickness and his close call with death. Perhaps we would be more emotionally and spiritually healthy as believers in Jesus Christ if we were more honest about our own emotions and griefs. Denial does not lead to health even if it looks healthy from the outside. It simply causes the grief to be delayed and deferred. It ultimately comes out somehow, usually not in a good way.
Jesus wept at Lazarus grave. I can hear church people today clucking their tongues at him. They are thinking, “Doesn’t he know that Lazarus is in a better place? Doesn’t he know that death has no power over the believer? Doesn’t he know that death is just a doorway to a better life? What is wrong with him?” Yes, Jesus knew all those things. He also knew the deep pain of loss. He also knew that people we not created to die. Death is not a good thing. The sting of death was removed at the cross, but the loss is still real. Perhaps we should take a lesson from Jesus and Hezekiah and learn to grieve better. Deep grief leads to hope when we know God. Hezekiah grieves deeply and then ends with these words:
Isaiah 38:19-20 (ESV)
The living, the living, he thanks you,
as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
The LORD will save me,
and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
at the house of the LORD.
“Joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5), but if we never acknowledge the darkness we will never fully appreciate the light. Grieve well. Grieve deeply. Then rejoice in the hope of Christ.