Grief, at its source, is a challenge to the identity.
The very matter of loss is the phenomenon of challenge to the person we have become. Loss requires us to change. Loss takes us into a bout of grief that seems unending. Loss pits us against ourselves. For a time we feel like nobody and we struggle in the friendliest of circumstances. Loss takes us away from ourselves into a world ever more unknown.
All we want in our grief is for the pain to stop; to once again enjoy things the way they were; despite our logical minds understanding that things will never be that way again.
With loss, we have the antecedent for transformation without the motivation to change. We need to manufacture the enthusiasm for that latter thing; we need to repent—to turn back to God.
Most of the time, from our Christian worldview, we have seen repentance as the necessary response to sin. But that is a limited and punitive-only theology of repentance. Of course, it’s the most important one, but with repentance there is much more than turning from our sin back to God.
If we take repentance in broad terms it is turning back to God.
Utilising this broader facility of repentance, we can take the challenge to our identity—because of our loss—and come back to God, to find a place of encompassing sanctuary beyond the limited sanctuary of our contingent identity.
When we repent we no longer require the solidity of our human identity. The trouble is we have become so entrenched in that identity that it is a barrier in turning back to God.
If we were to risk, even for a moment, jettisoning our identity—the old self—we might have a new world opened up to us: the world of identity in God alone.
From this vantage point—because we have turned back to the Basis of Life itself—we see a huge vista open up before us. Suddenly we see suffering all around and empathy becomes us. We see God everywhere, especially where God appears nowhere in a particular scene. The eyes of our hearts are opened up.
Because we have turned back to God, our Lord has gifted us with an understanding very few people come to know.
Then we understand an incredible reality: this loss that sent us into grief has been the very road upon which has taken us to true salvation—yes, upon Jesus’ name. We had to come to the end of ourselves before life truly began.
Loss can be a good thing, because, in our grief, we turn back to God and allow our Lord to refashion our identity. Although loss is nothing about sin, we use repentance (to turn back to God) as a means of forging a new identity; through which we can be healed. What was the worst thing that could happen, can sometimes mean the best.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.