“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I used to love reading the comics. I’d make sure I got ahold of a copy of the newspaper every single day so I could see the latest from all of my favorite artists. I actually own the complete boxed set collections of both Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side–two of my prized possessions. I’ve got my eye out for a similar collection of Get Fuzzy when it finally goes out of regular print. Another of my favorites was always Peanuts. Everyone loves Charlie Brown and Snoopy and the gang. He made popular an already common phrase: Good grief. I say all of that to ask this: Is it really?
Now, that phrase itself was originally a way to say, “Good God,” in a day when taking the Lord’s name in vain was something that actually concerned people. There are a whole variety of similarly mild imprecations like this. But rather than analyze the history and originally intended expression of the phrase, I want to think through the words themselves with you for a few minutes this morning. Is grief ever good?
Our initial reaction to that may be to simply say, “No,” and move on, but let’s think just a bit longer. Our culture doesn’t like hard emotions like that. A secular culture in particular doesn’t want the reminder of our mortality that grief often brings with it. If there is nothing after this life and death is still the great enemy of humanity, grief–most commonly thought of in situations of the loss of a loved one–is a reminder of things we’d rather forget. But at a much broader level, grief is simply the normal human reaction to a perceived loss. The greater the loss, the stronger the grief.
In this sense, the question of whether or not grief can ever be good takes on a new hue. We can actually amend the question just a bit. Is there some grief that is good and other grief that is bad? Well, grief itself exists because we live in a fallen world. There is a day coming when grief will be no more. So, in that sense alone, grief is never good. It is a reminder that things are not like they should be, like they were designed to be in the beginning, like they will one day be again in the future.
But, taking things for what they are, being reminded of a loss isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on exactly the loss that is causing us grief as to whether or not we consider the grief to be good. The moral weight of the grief is also determined by our reaction to it. Different people respond differently to grief in different circumstances. If grief winds up sending someone on a downward spiral that leads to self-harm or harm directed at others, it is definitely not a good thing. But, in reality, the grief itself isn’t the problem, the person’s reaction to it is.
All of that being said, I would argue that grief can actually be a very good thing. Here’s why: In the pressing sense of loss that grief brings with it (again, the severity of that sense depends on the nature of the loss), we are reminded that this world is not as it was intended to be. We inherently know things shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t experience that kind of loss. We weren’t designed for it. This world wasn’t created for it. But if that really is the case, then what we are doing is comparing this world with some idealized vision of the world. We can only express that the world isn’t as it was meant to be if in fact we have some kind of conception of what it should be instead. Do you see where this points? The very presence of grief in our world is a pointer to a world where it doesn’t exist. And if there is a world where it doesn’t exist, then shouldn’t we be doing whatever we can to gain access to that world?
But, right now we are thinking of loss in a single set of terms–the loss of something…or someone…we held dear. Allow me to introduce another kind of loss: the loss of righteousness and a right relationship with God because of sin. The grief stemming from this kind of an awareness of loss can actually be a very, very good thing. It can be a very good thing where it motivates us to see that relationship restored.
That’s actually what we see here in Zechariah. Matthew would identify this as a prophecy about Jesus and which was specifically fulfilled when Jesus’ side was pierced with the spear to confirm His death on the cross. And it certainly points to that, but I think it points to something even more as well. It points to a spirit of grief-borne repentance over the weight of human sin and an intention to see that sin atoned for–which, of course, it was in Christ whose identity as God’s firstborn is referenced here as well–in order that we can be restored to the relationship with God He designed us to have with Him in the beginning.
This, then, is a very good grief. This is a grief that should not exist in this world, but which God uses to draw us to Him–to the world as it was designed to be. This is a grief which sings of death, but which leads to life. It mourns the greatest loss there is–that of a right relationship with God–even as it points us in the direction of seeing that loss restored permanently, eternally even. May you grieve, then. Perhaps that is a strange blessing, but may you grieve what is broken in this world in order that you know more fully the life that is truly life.