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Where is God in my loss?

When experiencing loss, people tend to question or strengthen their faith, depending on their view of God. So where is God in my loss?

Read time: 8 minutes, 13 seconds

Introduction

Loss and grief are inescapable facts of human life. They will come to every one of us sooner or later. Every religion attempts to answer the big questions about life and death – what it means and why we’re here – and Christianity is no exception. The challenge to find meaning in life and death doesn’t come any greater than when we are faced with the death of a loved one. This article will attempt to answer some of the questions arising from that challenge, from a Christian perspective:

What is loss and grief?
What does the Bible tell us about what God is like?
How does loss and grief challenge Christian belief?
Where can we find hope?

What is loss and grief?

Any kind of loss brings a consequent bereavement and can lead to a degree of distress. Grief is the feeling, or mixture of feelings that we experience when a bereavement occurs. It might simply be the frustration of losing one’s car keys, right up to the depths of despair that we can feel when someone we love has died.

Grief is a natural response when we suffer a loss and each person will experience grief differently. These are some of the more common signs:

Feelings of anger, guilt, loneliness, depression, emptiness, sadness, numbness, but still occasionally experiencing moments of joy or happiness
Crying – sometimes without warning
Changes in sleep patterns
Tiredness or a lack of energy
Feeling lethargic or apathetic
Changes in appetite
Withdrawing from usual social interactions
Difficulty concentrating or focusing
Questioning spiritual or religious beliefs

These feelings can come and go over time: one day we might be cheerful and able to do ordinary things without difficulty; on another day we may be plunged back into the depths of sadness or exhaustion.

The challenge to find meaning in life and death doesn’t come any greater than when we are faced with the death of a loved one.

What does the Bible tell us about what God is like?

One of the key resources helping Christians to discover what God is like is the Bible but because it shows us a wide variety of pictures of God, there are many different ways of thinking about God. Here are just a few examples of loss from the Bible and how people’s beliefs affected the way they responded to the loss:

In the book of Job we hear of God allowing Satan to test Job; to see if great suffering could destroy the faith of this devout man. Yet even when his family, his household, his cattle and possessions, his home and his health, were all gone, still Job held on to his faith in God. For some Christians, great loss is seen similarly as a test to be endured.

Psalm 18 was probably written by or for King David as a response to the suffering of years of battle. In verse 2, God is described: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge”. This gives a picture of a God who is steadfast and dependable.

In the gospel of John, chapter 11, we hear about Jesus’ grief and tears on hearing of the death of his dear friend Lazarus. John tells us that Jesus was able to call Lazarus back from the dead, pointing to a God who can do anything.

In some suffering, God is apparently absent. When Jesus was undergoing the torture of crucifixion, in the depths of his suffering, quoting from Psalm 22, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus could not have made it plainer, that in the moment of his greatest need, it felt to him as if God had abandoned him. Of course the story of Jesus doesn’t stop there. For his followers, lost in grief in the days after his death, they experienced the joy of resurrection, of a new kind of life, after death.

There are examples in the Bible of God as tester, as steadfast rock, as all powerful, as absent, as new life. And there are many more pictures of God to be found, both within the pages of the Bible and in the experience of Christians.

Continued below...

Christianity Where is God in my loss?

How does loss and grief challenge Christian belief?

For many Christian people, the deepest experiences of grief can raise huge questions about God and God’s place in the grief. Those questions may include:

How could a loving God let this happen?
What did I do to deserve this? Is God punishing me?
Why has God abandoned me?
Can I still believe in God?

Responses to those questions can be very varied and obviously depend greatly on what we believe about the nature of God, which as we have seen, also covers a wide span.

On the one hand, the idea of an all-powerful God can be very comforting, allowing us to trust that God is in control and that there is a purpose in all that happens; but it raises the question that if God can do anything, even raise Lazarus from the dead, why did God not, for example, turn back the ravages of cancer in my loved one?

If we see bereavement as a test from God and we come out of the other end with a stronger faith then does the experience tell us that we’ve passed the test and pleased God? Or does it tell us that God is cruel and that we might want nothing more to do with God?

If God is a steadfast rock then we can trust that God will not abandon us, but for some that can make God feel irrelevant, with nothing to say to our present distress, just a lifeless rock. For others it brings huge comfort, knowing that God’s love is assured and steady and that can lead to a deepening relationship with God.

Is there any hope to be found?

Christians will often take great hope from any one of these pictures of God, and many others. They draw us into the experience of millions of believers who have come before. People who have suffered the most painful of losses and yet still trust in the love of God. But it is the example of Jesus that is both the most surprising, and the most mysterious, source of comfort and hope.

If Jesus, as a supreme example of faithfulness, could have had that moment of doubt on the cross, that feeling of betrayal and utter abandonment by God, then we can know that Jesus has truly been in this dark place of suffering before us. We can know that God does still love us, even in our times of deepest distress, pain, grief and tears.

If we are going to find God and hope in our place of deepest sorrow then we need to be honest about our feelings.

In 2008-9 a hospice chaplain undertook a research project into the ways in which a chaplain can bring hope to people who are coming to the end of their lives. Many people in this situation are grieving for a future they had imagined but will not now happen. He discovered that the single most important source of hope for these people was to have a steadfast presence. It was the willingness of someone to stay in the place of sorrow and loss and allow them to express their grief that made the difference. (Nolan S (2012) Spiritual care at the end of life London, Jessica Kingsley)

If we are going to find God and hope in our place of deepest sorrow then we need to be honest about our feelings. We need to lament, to cry and to rage. And we need people who will hear our lament and let us sit with the sorrow. Because we know that the sorrow of grief will not last in its first intensity for ever. Our instinct is often to push away the sadness and put on a brave face, but that may not be the most helpful thing to do.

No-one knows just what happened at the first Easter. What we do know for certain is that Jesus’ followers, having seen their friend die in the most public and painful way imaginable, experienced his presence with them in the days that followed his death. And this experience persisted through time and persecution, giving them the courage to spread Jesus’ message of love and peace across the land and beyond. Whatever resurrection means, it was something so powerful and so joyful, that ordinary people found the power to do and say extraordinary things.

There are many ways in which we can find God in our loss and grief: as a steady presence through testing times; as one who can raise the dead; as one who is steadfast and with us even when we feel utterly alone; as one who can give us more courage than we ever imagined and as one who stays with us in the darkness and will lead us back into the light with more courage than we ever imagined.

Further help

If your feelings of grief are intense or prolonged, then ask for help: a friend or relative, your GP or someone you trust.

If you are having suicidal thoughts; thinking that everyone would be better off without you; or feel that you can't go on, call the Samaritans - 116 123 - a free 24-hour helpline, providing confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

For more helpful Christian information on the subject, please see our Grief, loss and meaning feature page, which includes an act of remembrance, the opportunity to be prayed for, and links to relevant resources.