Making Room for Grief

“Some of us have absorbed a form of theology with all the answers. We can offer standard answers to every problem that comes along, especially if the problem is afflicting some other person. Our certainty and dogmatism give us such assurance, our systematic theology is so well articulated, that we leave precious little scope for mystery, awe, unknowns. Then, when we ourselves face devastating catastrophe, . . . we find that . . . the mere certainties proved inadequate in our own hour of need.”  - D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?

I was nowhere near as prepared for the death of my mother as I liked to think I was, even despite her long decline. Death, and subsequent grief, were not the straightforward things I had once imagined. My “mere certainties proved inadequate in [my] own hour of need”.

I believed that my mother was with the Lord, and yet I found myself grappling on a spiritual level with the reality of death for everyone, not just my own mother. Everywhere and every day some deeply beloved person is dying, and someone is aching and weeping at their side.

If the Scripture is true, not all of these people end up spending their eternity in heaven. Witnessing the passing of my own mother brought all this home to me, breaking my heart at the thought of hell, and leaving me re-asking all the questions I once had pat answers for. I had to come to grips with a God who sends real people, deeply loved people, to judgment. If I could not accept that, I could not claim to believe or trust the God of the Bible. And, yet, I did believe in that God.

As I agonized and struggled with that doctrine too horrible for words, I found that I kept returning to the truth of Scripture. No matter which way I turned the only satisfactory comfort happened to be found between the covers of the very same Book which teaches of the worst horrors. I found my dread there, but also my hope. I found shelter in the arms of the very One I feared.

What it came down to was not that my doctrine was false, but that I was far too glib. Jesus wept when confronted with the death of his dear friend, Lazarus, even though He was about to resurrect him. The tragedy of death, even the death of a believing one, broke His heart. It was with a broken heart that Christ raised Lazarus from the dead.

The memory of my once loose discussions of death and hell make me cringe. Hard truth spoken apart from humility is a heartless thing. I thank the Lord for His patience and pray that I never again spout cold doctrine from an un-broken heart.

Photo credit eflon via Visual hunt CC BY

This article was previously published at and is adapted from a longer piece I previously published on this blog at


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