WHAT a great confusion is created by notions of sin in the theology of grief. This article is a direct response to this offering from The Gospel Coalition. The crux of this article is that it hones in on the sin inherent in the grief response — anger, jealously, envy, etc. The thing that troubles me with such articles is that, as a person reads it who may be deep in their grief, they don’t read it through the eyes of grace. Grace is certainly mentioned, but I often think of grace as a feeling — a good feeling of being cleansed anew in God’s favour. I didn’t get this feeling reading Miscarriage and the Confusion of Sinful Grief. What it said was true; that sin seems so representative in the normal grief response, but there was something missing.
What is missing?
In grief there must be room — for healing’s sake — for the person’s grief expression who’s grieving. There is a great deal of potential harm, not to mention false teaching, because it’s not the full theological story, in majoring on the ‘sinful’ expression of grief in loss. The ardent Christian wants to, no needs to obey their Lord. If they feel that their anger, bargaining, denial and depression — which are normal grief responses — are missing the mark, then they want to repress those normal responses. Such normal responses of grief, so inherent in the human condition that none of us can help them, and expressions so inherent for our healing, are not a missing of the mark.
People who are grieving must be journeyed with in non-judgmental ways that bleed compassion. Whenever we try and attend to responses as ‘sin’ we miss the mark, and that is, of itself, sin. Indeed, it’s a Pharisaic sin. The Pharisees would apply the law legalistically. Sure, envy at others’ blessing is sin. But if the envy is caused by a loss or a hope vanquished the journey to attributing it as ‘sin’ gets murky indeed. Who would want to go there?
A better response is to allow a person’s own attribution of their sin as they recover from their grief. But it’s personal. And grace needs to be implicit. Allusions of sin are incomplete post-Jesus without the imputation of grace.
Grief responses may appear sinful, but to call them sin is, of itself, a missing of the mark — a sin itself. But God’s compassion allows for what is normal and natural — the grief cycle so very well expressed in much of the Bible.
If there’s no room for grief to be expressed such expression is repressed and healing cannot occur.
Is the expression of pain in grief sinful, then? No. It appears sinful, but appearance is not always reality. Appearance is not the full story.
Now, that said, the person who can approach the sin in their grief response shows the capacity for God’s grace to heal them. And they’re growing.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.