To the laughter of readers around the world, late cartoonist Charles Schulz's famous character Charlie Brown would often encounter troubles of all kind, whether being tricked by friends or simply being confronted by the troubles of life, only to exclaim "Good grief." Good grief. That's an idiom that has currently a particularly painful resonance in the midst of a community grieving the loss of friends and loved ones in this late winter season.
On its surface, it is simply a nonsensical saying. What good could ever come from grief, especially the horrible circumstances that thrust it upon us? Should we look for a silver lining in a storm cloud? At its center, Schulz's iconic phrase is supposed to be contradictory. Saying "good grief" is to purposely be nonsensical, to say, "whatever happens, happens."
On one hand, each of us could recall experiences in our lives when we couldn't make sense of the troubles that surrounded us. Sometimes it is self-inflicted, like when we ignore the wise counsel of a friend or when we continue to nurse unforgiveness or ungratefulness. Other times, trouble comes to us like a thief in the night, unannounced and unwelcomed. But either way, every human will journey through the valley of the shadow of death, be confronted by pain too great for words, and grief to strong to be ignored because we live in a world deeply scarred by brokenness. Brokenness, sometimes silently, lies between children and parents, countries and their citizens, between friends and spouses, and even life and death until it rises to the surface, on display for all to see. When considered from this perspective, "good grief" is hardly good news.
On the other hand, Christians throughout history have been notably ridiculed for professing faith and hope in the face of death itself. For Christians, "good grief" may have an entirely different meaning. Instead of throwing our hands up in disgust at the deep and irreconcilable fissures of sin and death, early Christians dared to turn the very instrument of Jesus' execution -- the cross -- into a symbol for hope. In Jesus' day, the cross was a universally despised symbol of torture and humiliation, yet early Christians saw it as the unique representation of God's love for the entire world. To them, it meant that the God who created life was willing to bear the unspeakable burden of death, so that, we too, might know true life in Christ.
To a Christian, there is no joy in the cause for grief. We don't celebrate suffering, evil, or death. Yet we also don't ascribe those realities more power than they deserve. Paul says it perfectly in his letter to the Thessalonians, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)."
So let us not run away from the deep feelings of grief that we feel in the wake of two such untimely deaths in our community. Let us lift up those who grieve in prayer and support, let us all receive permission to grieve this un-welcomed reminder of human fragility. Still, Christian hope impresses that there will be a day when we are drawn into the life of God in Jesus, see those who have gone before us, and recognize that there is no grief too strong to rule in our hearts in the presence of the resurrected Christ. Like the Christians of history, might we too boldly and yet with broken hearts, lift up the cross and be reminded that on the other side of grief, there is life.
BY REV. MICHAEL GEWECKE
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH