“God is in Control” Isn’t Good Enough for Grief

Sometime in early November, I started feeling foggy all day long. I still do to this day. It had come during a time when I was starting to have achiness throughout my teeth and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Dentists’ x-rays didn’t show anything, and yet my molars were achy. The fogginess I felt was accompanied with bouts of dizziness and lightheadedness. At times, in the beginning, I’d even have shallow breathing. I felt choked at times. This made it difficult to even look down at a page to write or draw. And art is one way that I make money. I became really depressed. I didn’t want to do anything.

At the time, I was a few months into a vegan diet that a friend of mine challenged me to do for only a month. I suspected that was the source of the problem. Perhaps it was an iron deficiency or a vitamin D deficiency. So, I discontinued the diet and went to a doctor. But an initial blood test showed that nothing was a problem. I was told it is probably anxiety. A second test showed that my vitamin D was low, despite spending three-quarters of each day in the sun. So I was prescribed 2,000 IU of Vitamin D each day, and have been taking it daily since late November. But it hasn’t improved. I still feel this way, but now my ears are bothering me. They get achy, are sensitive, ring at times, and feel muffled at times. I get pressure in the temples of my head, and all of this is accompanied by what I suspect is referred tooth pain. I have an appointment with a doctor tomorrow.

The consolation I’ve received has varied, and it really got me thinking about how we as Christians use axioms without really thinking of them. We try to offer comfort to each other oftentimes and even to ourselves, but our words offer little comfort because we might not really know what we mean by them or they have no comforting power in them. Some of the words of comfort I’ve received from both non-Christian and Christian friends alike have been, “Stay positive” or “It will get better” or “It’ll work itself out.” Stay positive for what? What if it’s cancer? That could be a possibility. People get it all the time. It will get better? How do you know that? People don’t get better all the time, despite what the Beatles say. It’ll work itself out? What if it’s a disease that’s ‘working its way’ through my body? Reactions like this are frowned upon in a culture that praises positive thinking, but let’s be honest. We live in a dark world where things don’t get better for us temporally. You can delay death all you want, but it’s an ever-present reality. If it turns out that what’s in my head is something minor, and I decide to celebrate the good news with my family over a meal, I can still choke on my food and die.

I realize the person receiving the words of consolation will usually filter that information through whatever pain they are feeling. For instance, if someone hammers their hand as hard as they can, I doubt anything in that moment is going to make that pain easy to endure. And that’s temporal pain. The death of your baby or spouse or parents, however, is something that will stay with you until you die. People need time to grieve, and Scripture tells us to grieve with them. This means not trying to fix the situation with words right away. I have a proclivity to try and solve every problem immediately. In situations like this, I think to myself, “I’m going to give the best advice, and they are going to ingest it and instantly feel a lifted burden.” Try again. Humans don’t work that way. Sorrow is real. It isn’t like stubbing your toe. It’s more like someone peeling the skin off of your back. Let the person cry. Cry with them. Listen to them talk about the situation. Serve them, and treat them in a way that you would want to be treated in that moment. Regard them as better than yourselves. These are all great works. Different situations will call for different actions, and this article isn’t intended to be a comprehensive layout of how to deal with how to act in each situation. I’m concerned with what we say when given the opportunity. It is what we say that is guided by our theology, and I want to know that what I’m saying is the same thing that the apostles would say. Times of dispensing good news will certainly come. And we have to make sure that, as Christians, that good news is actually good.

Christians tend to use more pointed language when offering comfort. Perhaps the biggest response I’ve heard is that “God is in control.” I agree. God is most certainly in control. I believe that just as much as anyone ever did. But it’s not good news. Or at the very least, it’s not good enough. We need to make sure that it is explained properly, offering something for the hearer to grasp and cling to. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around so meaninglessly that it comes off as tepid. Simply knowing that God is in control of the situation offers little comfort to the parents who’d spent 5 years of their lives intensely loving their son only to watch him die in a car wreck. “God is in control” isn’t good news to the man who gets a death notice that cancer will claim his life by the age of 25. It’s an isolated term that, in times of grief, we are usually left with only wondering why God hadn’t control things differently. In fact, it’s not even necessarily distinctively Christian. Other religions can claim the same thing too. So what would be the good news for those grieving? Well, I know this is going to sound innovative, but the good news we offer is the good news offered in the Bible.

Yes, we remind them, and ourselves, of the gospel of what Christ has done for sinners. We remind them of what we confess in the apostle’s creed: That

“we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

We are each and every one born sinful and loving sin because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God said not to do something and they did it. And the curse that befell them has befallen all of us: death, because that is the penalty for breaking God’s laws. People die. We will all die. And upon our deaths, we will each be judged, answering for those laws we’ve broken. But on the cross where Christ was crucified, God was pouring His wrath for law breaking upon Christ. In other words, He was punishing Him instead of law breakers so that, on that day when He judges everyone, Christ’s perfect life and payment for sin would stand in place of those who believe in Him. In turn, our wretched lives won’t be counted against us. And Christ truly did die and was buried. But He didn’t stay dead in that grave. Three days later, He rose from the dead. And those who place their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will also be raised from the dead bodily.

13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

18 Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:13-19

Despite what scads of money hungry pastors will tell you, we aren’t promised long healthy lives. Our hope isn’t in the here and now. Your best days aren’t ahead of you here on earth, and this isn’t your best life. This is a life that is tragic and disheartening and painful and bloody and death-filled. Don’t get me wrong, there are many beautiful things that God has created, and many amazing things to enjoy. But this life isn’t anything close to the one to come. There is no hope here on this earth. We don’t grasp and cling to this physical and temporal earth. It’s passing away. We cling to that which is everlasting: Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the resurrection, when those who have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be raised bodily at the end of all things and spend an eternity with Him. As John Newton said in his hymn, Amazing Grace, the ten thousandth year will still feel like the first. There is suffering and ugliness and sin here on earth, but God did something about it. We can have peace in times of turmoil and anguish because Christ made us to have peace with God, not being counted law breakers and enemies, but God’s own children. The apostle Paul said in Romans 8:18 that the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The sufferings we go through might seem like an eternity, but they won’t last that long. You might live long enough to be 80 or 90 or maybe 100. And that time will be spent watching people get hurt, hurting others, being hurt, and watching people you really care about die. But those problems, which are real problems, are only a reminder that we are in a fallen world. And it was this fallen world for which Christ gave His life. God Bless.


2 thoughts on ““God is in Control” Isn’t Good Enough for Grief”

  1. This is beautiful. The real comfort is not that God is in control of the present, but that God is in control of the future. Thank you.


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