Johann Christoph Arnold

Our Discomfort with Grief

Grief is the innate urge to go on loving someone who is no longer there, and to be loved back. And insofar as we hold ourselves back (or allow someone else to hold us back) from bringing this urge to expression, we will remain frustrated, and we will never heal. In other words, grief is the soul’s natural response to loss, and should not be repressed. 

No matter the circumstances when someone dies, we tend to haul out the same old clichés. Part of it is probably our fear of hurting someone by saying “the wrong thing.” Part of it is that we are so overwhelmed by emotions that we don’t know what we really think. But a good part of it is also our general discomfort with grief.
For most of us, the raw reality of losing someone (or seeing someone else suffer such a loss) is too much for us to address honestly and fully. It demands vulnerability – the admission of weakness, dependence, and the fear that we’ve come to the end of our rope – and because of this we try to brush it off, or skirt it by means of pat phrases. And when that doesn’t work we treat it like a speed bump: slowing down because we have to, but then hurrying on as quickly as possible.
Sometimes we do this for ourselves, in the hope that if we can pick ourselves up again and “move on,” we can limit our pain. Sometimes, worried what others will think about us if we don’t pull ourselves together soon, we mask our pain by bottling it up silently.
Common as it is to try to deal with grief in this way, it does not work. Hide it, talk around it, postpone it, pretend it isn’t there – in the long run, grief will never go away until it is met head on and allowed to run its course. Given the unique circumstances that shape every loss, the time this takes will vary with every person. Tragically, time isn’t always granted, as Gina, a young woman I know, found out.
When Tom, Gina’s sixteen-year-old brother, died of an overdose several years ago, she was devastated. “In a way, I’m still not through dealing with it,” she says. Friends and acquaintances were sympathetic at first, but after a while they grew tired of her inability to “move on” and made her feel guilty that she was still struggling:
I tried to explain, but they never really understood me. It seemed like they expected my life to be “normal” again. I often went through times of sadness, bitterness, and other painful emotions, but people were uncomfortable with this. I was so alone.
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The Hidden War

In speaking out against abortion, therefore, we must not forget that few other sins cause more heartache or anguish of soul. Very few women today are offered viable alternatives, and almost none of them are pointed to God, who alone can answer their need. A woman who has had an abortion suffers great torment of conscience, and her isolation and endless pain can be healed only at the cross – only by finding Christ. Christians need to feel the immeasurable pain that so many women bear in their hearts for their lost children. Who of us can cast the first stone? (John 8:7) Woe to us if we ever become cold toward a woman who has had an abortion!

Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Psalm 22:9–11
Almost a century ago, in response to the idea of “modern” family planning, Eberhard Arnold wrote, “In our families we hope for as many children as God gives. We praise God’s creative power and welcome large families as one of his great gifts.”1
What would he say now, in an era where contraception is standard practice and millions of unborn children are legally murdered every year? Where is our joy in children, and in family life? Our thankfulness for God’s gifts? Where is our reverence for life and our compassion for those who are least able to defend themselves? Jesus is very clear that no one can enter the kingdom unless he or she becomes like a child.
Sex without regard for the gift of life is wrong.
The spirit of our age is diametrically opposed not only to the childlike spirit but even to children themselves.2 It is a spirit of death, and it can be seen everywhere in modern society: in the rise of murder and suicide rates, in widespread domestic violence, in abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia. Our culture seems bent on going the way of death, of taking into its own hands what is God’s domain. And it is not only the State that is at fault.
How many churches sanction the murder of unborn children under the guise of supporting women’s rights? The sexual “liberation” of our society has sowed tremendous destruction. It is a false liberation built on the selfish pursuit of satisfaction and pleasure. It ignores discipline, responsibility, and the real freedom that these can bring. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas, it mirrors “a profound lack of confidence that we have anything worthy to pass on to a new generation…We are willing our deaths.”3
The majority of people today have no qualms of conscience when the life of a tiny being is prevented or destroyed. Once considered the greatest blessing God can give, children are now considered in terms of their cost: they are a “burden” and a “threat” to the freedom and happiness of the individual.
In a true marriage, there is a close connection between married love and new life (Mal. 2:15). When husband and wife become one flesh, it should always be with the reverent recognition that through it new life may be formed. In this way their sexual union becomes an expression of creative love, a covenant that serves life. But how many couples view sex in this way? For most, the pill has made intercourse a casual act, divorced from responsibility and supposedly free of consequence.
As Christians, we must be willing to speak out against the contraceptive mentality that has infected our society. Too many couples have bought into the popular mindset of sexual indulgence and family planning on demand, throwing to the wind the virtues of self-control and trust. Sex for its own sake, even in marriage, not only cheapens sexual intercourse but erodes the foundation of self-giving love necessary for raising children. To engage in sexual pleasure as an end in itself, without regard for the gift of life, is wrong. It means closing the door to children, and thus despising both the gift and the Giver (Job 1:21). As Mother Teresa once said:
In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self, and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other, as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception.4
Routine contraception undermines the fulfillment and fruition of two who are one flesh, and because of this we should feel revulsion toward the attitude that consistently seeks to avoid the responsibility of bearing children.
None of this is to suggest that we are to bring children into the world irresponsibly or at the risk of the mother’s health and well-being. The size of one’s family and the spacing of children is a matter of tremendous responsibility. It is something for each couple to consider before God, with prayer and reverence. Having children too closely together can place an especially difficult burden on the mother. This is an area where a husband has to show loving respect and understanding for his wife. Again, it is vital that a couple turn together to God and place their uncertainties and fears before him in faith (Matt. 7:7–8). If we are open to God’s leading, I am confident that he will show us the way.
To abort any child is to mock God.
The contraceptive mentality is but one of the manifestations of the spirit of death that makes new life so unwelcome in so many homes. Everywhere in society today there is a hidden war going on, a war against life. So many little souls are desecrated. And of those who are not prevented by contraception from entering the world, how many are callously destroyed by abortion!
The prevalence of abortion in our society is so great that it makes Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents tame in comparison. Abortion is murder – there are no exceptions. If there were, the message of the gospels would be inconsistent and meaningless. Even the Old Testament makes it clear that God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Prov. 6:16–17). Abortion destroys life and mocks God, in whose image every unborn baby is created.
In the Old Testament there are numerous passages that speak of God’s active presence in every human life, even while it is still being formed in the womb. In Genesis 4:1 after Eve conceives and gives birth to Cain, she says, “With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man.” She does not say, “With the help of Adam,” but “with the Lord.”
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