I have spent much of my academic energy since 1994 researching and writing about Lamentations, its interpretation, and people’s responses to crisis. And yet I still never know what to say to someone who is grieving. There are certainly words that I use and I know that the simple act of being with someone is incredibly powerful and meaningful. But what can we possibly say that will help them in their grief, in their time of great loss?
This is powerful and poignant again this weekend since yesterday I was notified that two of our students were killed in an accident on Saturday morning. I have shared the news with our other students through the blog, twitter, and facebook and there have been many words of comfort shared and appreciation expressed for the simple act of being told the tragic knews since even this is a reminder of the community of which these students were and the rest of us remain a part.
They were both sophomores, only just finishing their first year of college with tremendous promise and joy ahead of them. To say that they will be missed is an understatement. For their parents and families they will always remain a part of them and yet apart, their promise unfulfilled. As a parent now myself I can only begin to imagine the depth of their grief. It must be incapacitating.
There are two pieces of comfort that I cling to at such a time. The first comes from Lamentations and the Psalms. The language of lament in the Bible is raw and visceral. God is accused, shouted at, and their condition is descried. How could God possibly allow this to happen? Where is the justice in this? We are allowed (and we ought) to be honest with God. Grieving is no time to be pious and pretend that we do not hurt and doubt. Instead it is a time to allow our wounds and our tears to flow. God can stand our attacks and he will heal our wounds.
My second source of comfort comes from Job. Job maintained his innocence and refused to curse God. In the end God does indeed reply to Job but he never answers Job’s questions, he never explains why these horrific things happened to Job and his family. Instead, God asserted his authority as creator. Does this seem harsh and unsatisfying? Perhaps, but Job received the most important answer we might ever seek in our grief. It is not an explanation of why something was allowed to happen or how (as we are often piously informed) God will use it to his glory. The answer Job received and that we all need is the simple knowledge that God is here, that he is listening to our complaints, and that through it all he remains.
‘May light perpetual shine upon them.”