November 22, 2017

You don’t have to “do grief right”

Pietà, van der Weyden

Pietà, van der Weyden

Note from CM: I will closely moderate this post. Please be respectful and serious and stick to the subject today. If things get out of hand, I will not hesitate to shut down discussion.

• • •

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

• C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I don’t really want to write this, for fear it will be seriously misinterpreted. In fact, I haven’t wanted to touch this story because I respect the grief journeys people go on when they lose loved ones. I also was afraid I might get lumped in with others who have raised suspicions about the grieving widower in this story and who have suggested that his reactions lead them to suspect that he might have been involved in the horrific death of his young, pregnant wife.

But as a hospice chaplain and one who deals with grief issues regularly, I want to respond to just one part of what is happening with this story. I do this, not to criticize this man personally but to express my concerns about the way evangelical Christians of various kinds are being taught to handle their griefs and deepest sorrows.

To briefly summarize the background for those who don’t know it, in the early morning on November 10, while her husband Davey was working out at the gym, Amanda Blackburn was brutally murdered here in Indianapolis when intruders entered her home and one of them shot her three times, once at point blank range in the back of the head. The young pastor’s wife was 13 weeks pregnant and her other young child was sleeping at the time. Her husband found her when he returned home and she was rushed to the hospital where she later died. Two young men with past criminal records have been charged with the crime and a third is being looked at in connection with the murder and other break-ins and burglaries in the area.

To say the least, our community was shocked and deeply saddened by the violent death this young woman died, and our hearts have gone out to her family.

It has been surprising to many (including me) that her husband, Pastor Davey Blackburn, quickly and frequently rose to speak in public and in the local and national media many times about the tragedy, and that he has been unwavering in speaking in positive terms even though he and his family and church have been through this ordeal.

And this has led to some of the aforementioned suspicions. The Blackburns moved to Indiana to start Resonate Church after having served as a campus pastor at NewSpring Church, a Baptist megachurch in South Carolina where Perry Noble is the senior pastor. Noble has strongly supported Blackburn and has spoken out to protect him against a wave of conspiracy theories that washed over the internet, especially after a Fox News host openly discussed the possibility that the husband was involved in the crime.

This is all background. Please don’t waste our time in comments today with speculations about the case or the persons involved.

What I really want to talk about today is the way Pastor Blackburn framed “God’s message” to him about this tragedy two Sundays ago at the First Baptist Church of Elkhart where his late wife’s father, Phil Byars, is lead pastor. Here is a report about what he said in that sermon, with his father-in-law standing at his side, as reported and quoted in The Christian Post:

 

davey-blackburn-amanda-blackburnI had a thought this morning in the shower. And felt like the Lord spoke to my heart and said: ‘Davey, I want my church, I want my bride to come alive. And if I had asked you, Davey, before this if you were willing to give up your bride so that my bride can come alive, what would you have said?'” he noted with an uneasy chuckle.

“Of course, like anybody else I said ‘absolutely not. There is no way.’ I’m good with being married and having two little kids, pastoring a church of 120 for the rest of my life. I am good with comfort. And the Lord said, ‘That’s why I didn’t ask you the question beforehand.’ Because sometimes when you say, I surrender all, you mean I surrender some. So you are put in a situation where you have to surrender all,” he continued.

Blackburn then shared another revelation with his father-in-law’s congregation, referencing Ezekiel 37 in which the prophet spoke of the dry bones living again.

“And it said the breath was breathed into the beings and that breath is the breath of life. It’s the Holy Spirit of God that breathes life into you and me. I believe Ezekiel spoke the Gospel of Jesus Christ over that valley of dry bones. The Bible doesn’t indicate what he spoke and so we have to kind of fill in the blanks there, but I know there’s only one truth that can bring life and that’s the light of life, that’s Jesus Christ,” said Blackburn.

“And the Good News of Jesus, how He gave up his life so that we could have life,” he added.

Blackburn then rebuked the congregation for becoming stale.

“Last year, close to this time, I spoke a message here and whether you get offended by this or not, I don’t know, and honestly it doesn’t really bother me if you do, but when I looked out across this congregation I saw a valley of dry bones,” he said.

“I saw people who had life once but there was staleness. And I believe from that moment, I’ve heard story after story after story about how God has been beginning to construct this congregation in such a way that it can advance forward,” Blackburn continued.

“What God is doing now, through this event, God is now breathing life into this army. And I believe in some way, some shape, some form that we can’t wrap our minds around it theologically. God didn’t cause this to happen but he allowed it to happen in such a way, he allowed the breath of Amanda to come out of her so that the breath could be breathed into you and into me so that we could advance the Gospel in a way that history books have never even told.

“And I believe it is going to come out of this house. I believe it is gonna come out of our house in Indianapolis. I believe in this region, God’s gonna do something from the crossroads of America that’s gonna scatter across America, and we’re going to see a revival like we have never seen before,” he added.

 

You can watch the full message here.

Again, I’m hesitant to say anything because I respect Pastor Blackburn’s loss, his grief, and his right to deal with it in any way he chooses. So I don’t want to make this about him personally. But let’s be clear — I’ve heard this before. I’ve seen this kind of reaction before. I’ve heard people take life events that have caused them deep sorrow and turn them into lessons for themselves and others. And too many times I have sensed that they think it is because they have to do that in order to “do grief right” — as a Christian, that is. So I just want to make some simple statements to counter that impression.

You don’t have to “do grief right.”

First, you don’t have to come up with a “reason”  or a “purpose” for your loss. The plain fact is, there might not be one, at least one any of us will ever know.

Second, you don’t have to give a good “witness” when you have a loss. Why do so many Christians think always speaking positively is the ultimate sign of faith? Why do we think people are counting on us so much that we always have to “be a good example,” “be strong,” or “be victorious” in all circumstances? How about being human?

Third, you don’t have to always try to balance out your negative feelings with positive ones. Why do we feel so guilty about succumbing to the immense weight of loss? Why must we maintain the illusion that we can handle things with a little self-administered positive reinforcement? Why can’t we just fall apart and lament and leave it at that for as long as it takes?

Fourth, don’t imagine that God will always “speak” to you about these things.

Fifth, don’t imagine that you will find a verse or passage in the Bible that will explain things to you.

Sixth, don’t necessarily conclude that God must have something great in store for you since he sent you so much grief.

Seventh, don’t assume that, through your loss, God is giving you a “message” to share with others. This is a particular temptation for evangelicals (or activists of any kind), who are taught to be constantly looking for ways to “minister” to other people. This is not about that. I can’t state this too strongly. This is not about God, this is not about other people. Grief is about you. Let me say it again, grief is about you — your loss, your pain, your darkness. Evangelicals seem to have a hard time with that, thinking it must be “selfish” and therefore sinful or less than “godly” to focus on oneself.

Eighth, it’s okay to hurt, to fall apart, to withdraw from public life, to get depressed, to be angry, to fight and struggle within yourself and with God and others, to rage against the madness and senselessness of it all, to have no words, and to feel like that for the rest of your life if that’s what it takes to deal with your loss.

Finally, in another account of Pastor Blackburn’s message, he was quoted as concluding: “So do me a favor. Don’t let this be wasted.”

The experience of losing someone is not something we either “use” or “waste.” Grief doesn’t play by those rules, doesn’t fit within those boundaries, doesn’t respect those parameters. To think otherwise is to vainly imagine that we control our grief, that we have some idea of what this experience is “for,” that we somehow have an inside track to God’s mysterious purposes for our lives and our losses.

Don’t buy it. Be a human being.

Jump off the evangelical life-management train that claims to cut a straight path through the wilderness of grief. You just might meet the real God out there where there are no paths.

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    maybe the shallow response of the husband was a way for him to cope in HIS way . . . who knows how they would react in such tragedy?

    but his response did not seem to be ‘human’, no . . . and it lended itself to comments where people assumed the worst of him

    as for those who jumped to certain ‘conclusions’ about the pastor, it might be that they were influenced by some television series that showed trials of pastors whose wives had been killed . . .

    I admit to wondering myself . . . but I leave it in the Hands of God to know the truth of it . . . I have no right to judge anyone or to assume an innocent man to be guilty because of the unusual facts of the case

    if the pastor is truly innocent, I hope he comes to the place of a more human response, maybe privately, which I think leads a grieving person to peace in time

  2. I have to admit: I do NOT understand grief.

    I had a friend once, a captain in a local fire department, and he mentioned to me that people in fires are rarely killed by the flames but are usually overcome by smoke inhalation. He told me it wasn’t necessarily choking on the smoke as much as it was being thrown into confusion after that first bit of inhaled smoke. He said that the chemical functioning of the brain is changed, causing confusion and an altered state of consciousness, ultimately disabling one till the smoke actually kills them.

    I get the impression that grief does much the same thing in a person, altering their consciousness, their thinking and emotions.

    A few months ago we lost a good friend who died in a small plane crash in our community. His wife has been a long time friend of ours, raised our kids together, same church, vacationed together, as close as you can get. But since the accident she has become a different person, keeping more to herself, distant but not unfriendly. I’m sure she sees herself in a different light now and I can sympathize with her, but I cannot say that I really understand it.

    My wife has also been affected, asking me the usual theological questions such as “was this part of God’s plan?”, etc. I can offer her no good answer and she is still grappling with it herself.

    Grief. We may talk a good game, but sometimes it is best to just shut up and just sit with our friends. After all, it is THEIR grief. It changes you…

    • I agree that grief can be so confusing and difficult. What makes it so hard, for me, is having to live in a new reality whether you’ve accepted it and adjusted to it or not. This can be especially true after an unexpected or seemingly senseless loss. It can reach some of our deepest questions about God or our own identities, and we often can’t force answers, which can be supremely frustrating.

      I like your solution of being quiet and present. It can be very difficult to do, though.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I learned early on that anything you say to someone in that situation is just going to sound stupid.

        It goes back a long time. Remember Job’s Counselors? (Which I think was included in ha-Tanakh for that reason.)

    • > I have to admit: I do NOT understand grief.

      There can be no Understanding of Madness. Understanding is for Reasonable things.

      > it is best to just shut up and just sit with our friends

      This.

  3. Yes. Thank you, Chaplain Mike. While suffering through body- and soul-crushing depression, I realized that so many evangelicals have no idea how to suffer or grieve. Everything hard is brushed under the table because “God works everything out for good” and we should just trust him and thank him and everything is fine. Well, sometimes everything is not fine. The permission to be human, and not a distorted version of some perfect Christian, is so freeing. Thank you again for writing and posting this.

  4. Dave K eh? says:

    Excellent post. I especially resonated with the point – “First, you don’t have to come up with a “reason” or a “purpose” for your loss. The plain fact is, there might not be one, at least one any of us will ever know.”

    When I was 18, my healthy 52 year old mother went to bed and passed away in her sleep. The medical examiner couldn’t come up with any explanation in the autopsy other than that her heartbeat must have gone out of rhythm somehow and was not able to be reset. At her viewing I was accosted by a woman from church who made it her mission to make sure that I understood that her death was God’s will. I didn’t need an explanation at that point. I just needed people to be there for me and time to process.

    My mother passed away 15 years ago this past February and I feel like I have only recently been able to fully move on. I wish someone had said the things to me in this post after my mom passed away. Thanks CM.

  5. Thank you so much for your post. My brother made the horrendous decision a little over seven years ago to end his life in a rather violent way. At the time, there was no book I could find in evangelical Christianity, no one I could talk to who said what you have said so well above. There is pressure in the evangelical community to “have faith” and “snap out of it,” and it’s just not happening that easily for me. I wish I could give a glowing testimony of spiritual victory, but I feel that I have no testimony, other than the fact that I haven’t stopped contending with God. Right now, my life is at your point number seven, and every day is a struggle to trust, to turn away from the rage, and to try to remember and believe that God is good. Knowing that there is someone who understands and says that it’s okay actually means quite a lot. I’ll be printing out this article and keeping it in my Bible for future reference.

  6. 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 and verse 13 reads: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

    It is terribly easy to read this as saying, “Do not grieve!” and to try and bury your feelings, especially when you are wading through sh*t.

    Rather like forgiveness – it’s easy to read Jesus’ command that you forgive as telling you not to be angry at someone, and to try and bury quite how angry and hurt you are so that you can get on with not feeling bad, which frankly seems a much better deal than wrestling with pain.

    • > It is terribly easy to read this as saying, “Do not grieve!”

      Yep, I heard that verse a lot when my father died. I doubt anyone quoting it realized how completely out of context their usage was/is. But in any case it is capital-O obnoxious.

      > which frankly seems a much better deal than wrestling with pain

      It seems a better deal, but given that it doesn’t work…

  7. Paul, our 43-year-old son died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack two months ago. His death remains deeply painful to us and our entire family, especially his widow. I’m in general agreement with your 8 points here.But please allow me to add something to this.

    This grief has taken me to a very real place, a place way off the Interstate of religion and philosophy. In many ways, it has taken me into a land without language. I do believe that God does all things well. But, just like so much in His creation, Paul’s death and this grief have been works of silence in me and, I’m sure, in others. I don’t need to speak or write about it. I cannot see or understand what He is doing in us. But I do trust Him and His skill with His Own toolbox.

    I also know that God is big enough to work with His Own, even Evangelicals. 🙂 Much of what they may say is simply a human cry, an attempt to make sense, a reach for some kind of order in chaos and turmoil, an attempt to remain upright in the billowing sea of hurt. But that’s OK. God is faithful to care for them and carry them through grief and to, in time, find the depths of peace that passes understanding.

    Thank you for all you and other Internet Monk writers do for us.

  8. Sometimes I wonder if I have ever done anything right. Since Cindy died I have gone through every kind of emotion. I haven’t claimed any kind of victory yet and I don’t go around with the fake smile on my face. I have been real mad and disappointed and disgusted with it all. I have been this way most my life because of something called empathy and I seem to have a bad case of it. One thing I never stopped loving God through it all and I know he is bigger then all this and myself. My only good news I have sometimes and most days. O h God help us through this one. A long one in front of me yet again it will seem that way till I hit the mountain before dark to do the one thing that can be the only thing some days to make me right again. Feeding those furry friends that sit and wait on me. Think what you want. Peace and rest

  9. Reminds me of the U. S. Senator Paul Wellstone’s funeral in 2002, right before the elections. The service got “hijacked” and turned into a political pep rally for the candidate who was Wellstone’s designated replacement. There was quite the backlash, and the other candidate won the election. The other thing about this account that struck me: The pastor’s remark about “don’t let this be wasted. That’s a classic “community organizer” trope (“don’t let a good crisis go to waste”). Yes, the church in this instance mirrors the world, doesn’t it?

    • I wasn’t going to go there as I wasn’t clear if that violated CM’s directive about comments. But when CM says he respects the pastor’s “right to deal with it in any way he chooses” – I want to say that I do *not*. His address to his congregation is the most repugnant kind of political theater.

      “””I saw people who had life once but there was staleness….””” Really? His congregation should have revolted at that point; he just insulted them, and dismissed the value of all their endeavors to reach a rhetorical point. This is using grief to guilt-shame. Ick!

      • Your comment has moved me to add an additional point.

        This, it seems to me, is a particular temptation of evangelicals or activists of any kind. We are taught to constantly be thinking about how we can “minister” to others. But grief is not about that. It’s not about God. It’s not about others. It’s about you, your pain and your loss. And it’s not “selfish” to focus on that.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          We are taught to constantly be thinking about how we can “minister” to others.

          Including “Sell That Fire Insurance!”?

          • That is the end result and “hope” of so many.

            It’s ghastly. There’s nothing hopeful, there’s nothing joyful, there’s nothing good.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Except maybe becoming an immortal worship bot in a Heaven that’s not much better than Hell.

            Your status determined only by your Fire Insurance Sales Record, i.e. How Many Souls Did You Save(TM).

        • “But grief is not about that. It’s not about God. It’s not about others. It’s about you, your pain and your loss.” In a way, yes, it’s personal but in a way, that is what is so bothersome about the whole “look what good can come out of this!” trope because, to me, it puts ME at the forefront of it all. “Look at me! I’m learning the lesson! I’m willing to let MY grief help others! I’m willing to sacrifice even my most personal relationships to help you, you poor sinner!” But doesn’t that simply stroke the ego & give some illusion of control? Grief is personal because it throws out the ego, crushes it. I have suffered loss in a world that loves winning and there is nothing I can do to alleviate that loss. Nothing. It makes me an empty vessel. This is why we fear it so much.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          My Lutheran tradition is hardly free from the imperative to put on a cheerful face no matter what, but I wonder if Evangelicalism doesn’t exacerbate this with the notion that God constantly intervenes in our daily affairs. If you believe that finding a sweet parking space is the result of the depth of your personal relationship with Jesus, then what does it mean when a loved one dies? I can see how it can become super important to find a way to put a positive spin on it.

          • “If you believe that finding a sweet parking space is the result of the depth of your personal relationship with Jesus, then what does it mean when a loved one dies?”

            This.

  10. Thanks CM, great as always.

  11. flatrocker says:

    from Pope Francis….

    “A hurting person is in a storm. They are cold, wet, shivering, and scared. Preaching, platitudes, and advice will not get them out of the storm. Don’t tell a person in a storm that it’s a sunny day. There will likely come a day when the clouds part, but it is not today. It’s not your job to pull them out of the storm. It’s your job to get wet with them.”

  12. Mike the Geologist says:

    I’ve gone around and around in my church over this issue. The evangelical viewpoint in “rejoice in the Lord always” or “in everything give thanks”. When I point out that if Jesus himself felt God had forsaken him, and Jesus never sinned; then it is no sin if we feel forsaken by God. I usually get blank stares…

    • Me, too, Mike. There is a lot of pressure for those grieving to conform to the evangelical ethos of rejoicing in all things–even death and a failure to remember that the Bible refers to death as an enemy, not something to welcome or rejoice in. The first thing I tell someone who has lost a loved one when they tell me that they’re rejoicing that “they are with the Lord now” (after acknowledging that is true) is that it is okay to grieve, it is okay to mourn, in fact, it is right to do so as a response to the broken world we live in and have received the same blank stares. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m the one who has it wrong.

  13. I used to work at a Christian TV station (YEARS ago), run by a Pentecostal denomination. They were good people but seemed to want to live in a fantasy world where every problem had a ‘happily ever after’ ending (which I heard every morning when a certain preacher from Tulsa did his show). There was one woman who worked there (who was a big fan of a certain preacher who has his own airport near Ft. Worth) whose line whenever anyone expressed any sense of hurt or sorrow (quoting that preacher from Ft. Worth) was ‘there’s no such thing as good grief’. My reaction then, and now was ‘Good Grief’!

    That is perhaps an extreme example of the problem, but it is the expected response – true faith doesn’t grieve our loses since ‘in light of eternity” they aren’t really losses. Evangelicals (like just about everyone else) don’t have a theology to deal with grief well (or many other life issues for that matter).

    A young friend, for whom I have much respect wrote the following in a group email discussion. I think he hits the nail on the head.

    ‘Conservative Christians must figure out how our real reality and experiences in the Now-and-Not-Yet fit inside of the grand historical and Biblical narrative of Christianity (which includes suffering, brokenness, finitude, etc.). Much of Evangelicalism (not all!) has insisted on changing those realities and experiences rather than integrating them into historical orthodox Christianity. Are you depressed, sad, angry, hurt? “Give it to Jesus, and He will make you happy!” Are you poor or struggling to figure out how to pay your rent? “Follow Biblical principles and He will bless you!”. Jump to Easter and pretend Lent is over. I even have been to funerals in which well-meaning (but deeply errant) Christians asked mourners to pretend it was a “celebration” and not cry over the sick, brutal reality of death (which God hates!).’

    I think his observation about wanting to skip Lent and jump straight to Easter is deeply telling. There is no room in this kind of theology for grief – it demonstrates a lack of faith. So we pretend funerals are celebrations and that every tragedy MUST have some greater mysterious eternal meaning. I realize it is an attempt to make sense of those tragedies but it often only leads to more sorrow (hidden of course) and makes healing harder by loading guilt on top of already hurting people.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Conservative Christians(TM) need to take off the Stimpy Happy Helmet.

      I’ve heard a couple horror stories of Homegoing Celebrations(TM) — aka funerals — where everyone was HAPPY! HAPPY! JOY! JOY! HAPPY! HAPPY! JOY! JOY! HAPPY! HAPPY! JOY! JOY! One I think I read on a long-ago IMonk comment thread claimed the Pastor was riding herd to make sure NOBODY even thought of looking sad or bitter(TM) — including the widow who sat there like a zombie the whole time, SMIIIIIIILING.

    • Are you depressed, sad, angry, hurt? “Give it to Jesus, and He will make you happy!” Are you poor or struggling to figure out how to pay your rent? “Follow Biblical principles and He will bless you!”.

      *twitch*

    • Christiane says:

      I remember reading on a fundamentalist-evangelical blog that some felt preaching a funeral ought to include warnings to those present who were ‘not saved’ about dying and going to hell . . . in short, USE the service to convert sinners to Christ by using the example that death awaits us all (or rather, hell awaits them what does not agree with us).

      These people were sincere in their beliefs, but I kept thinking about the grieving who were present, and about the departed soul . . . then I realized that they have no hope for anyone who has already died, and that the service was seen as an ‘opportunity’ to ‘preach the gospel’ which ought not to be a wasted opportunity . . .

      but I kept thinking about the grieving who were present . . .

  14. This pastoral reaction to grief is so harmful to people who have NOT yet experienced grief. It makes them believe that Christians don’t feel grief the same way, and that in grief we will see God, instead of feeling forsaken. I am speaking from experience.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It makes them believe that Christians are psychotically detached from reality.
      As in Totally Delusional.

  15. Amen.

  16. Thanks, CM.

  17. O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Your world, do, we beseech You, give rest to the souls of Your departed servants Amanda Blackburn and her unborn child, in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which they have committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For You are a good God Who loves mankind; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for only You are without sin, Your righteousness is to all eternity, and Your word is truth.

    For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and You are the Repose of Your servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father, who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

    Through the fervent intercessions of the all-Holy Mother of God, the prayers of the all laudable apostles, the holy and all victorious martyrs, and all of the just and God-fearing who through all ages cry out to You with a pure heart, have mercy on them, and save them.

    men.

    • Amen

    • I don’t know the pain Davey Blackburn is enduring. I suppose in the face of such pain and grief we fall back on the “truths” we have been taught craving some meaning, some hope to hold onto in the midst of blinding and searing pain. The truths contained in your prayer, Mule, are what I pray I hold onto should (or, more likely, when) such pain befall me.

  18. Adam Cantrell says:

    I’ve been a reader for a few months, but I don’t believe I have commented on a post before. So here’s my first go. (Hopefully my thoughts will be coherent)

    Point one really resonates with me. One of the best things that ever happened to me was discovering that there does not have to be a “reason” or “purpose” for loss or suffering of any kind. Sometimes terrible things happen, period. I think the ideas that contribute to Christians feeling there has to be a purpose for loss or suffering is because we believe God is omnipotent and perfectly good. For many people the only was of reconciling these ideas with suffering, of any kind, is the idea of higher purpose. I’m not sure this is the best way to reconcile these ideas. I am convinced there are certain parts of life that can’t be explained, only experienced. With that in mind, perhaps it is inappropriate for us to attempt to reconcile these ideas, but rather we should just experience loss/suffering. Does that make sense?

    • Yes, Adam, that makes sense. A lot. We talk about the need to experience God and then try to rationalize the whole experience. On a very shallow level, it’s a little like one’s like or dislike for a certain food, or artist, or book. I don’t know why I like a good, home cooked Bolognese sauce over some canned grocery store variety pasta sauce. I just do.

    • Welcome, Adam. Thanks for your contribution — it makes perfect sense.

    • Your comment makes sense to me.

      > because we believe God is omnipotent and perfectly good

      A key to this is to push them on what “omnipotent” and “perfectly good” means. I have found that, to the man, this belief is itself brittle and hollow. It is barely more than a trope; it implodes or evaporates under the slightest analysis. The mentally healthy will see the wisdom in abandoning words they cannot define, and those that won’t…. one just moves on.

      And when you walk away from having to reconcile real life to terms you cannot actually define anyway: Freedom! Which includes the freedom to rage and to weep.

      A great creator does not need us to shield his fragile ego.

      • Adam Cantrell says:

        “And when you walk away from having to reconcile real life to terms you cannot actually define anyway: Freedom!”

        I like that a lot. I don’t have time to go into it (I’m writing when I have breaks at work), but I think that summarizes my life as a Christian thus far.

  19. petrushka1611 says:

    I’m phrasing this really cynically, but him turning this tragedy into a way to criticize his church for something he perceives, “vision-casting” some vague future of life, deserves to be viewed with cynicism. He’s now got his people thinking, “Oh, no! The Man of God sees how spiritually lazy we’ve become. We’d better get ourselves all wound up for action!”

    Build a better hamster wheel, and the evangelicals will flock to your door.

    • We’d better take action or another tragedy might happen!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’m phrasing this really cynically, but him turning this tragedy into a way to criticize his church for something he perceives, “vision-casting” some vague future of life, deserves to be viewed with cynicism.

      “What an Opportunity to Advance MY Agenda!”
      Nothing more.
      Sucks to be the guy whose wife & kid go murdered…

    • > deserves to be viewed with cynicism

      It deserves to be responded to with Anger.

  20. To me, this is not grief. It might be shock, it very well might be mental illness. There is a tremendous detachment from reality. I don’t think a person can grieve (however they do it) without a connection to reality. I hope, for his sake, that reality can somehow break through.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Shock is the most charitable way to explain it.

      I know when I lost my parents (mother in 1975, father in 1994) my emotions just shut down completely and gradually came back over the next couple months. In a best-case scenario, that’s what’s happening. In a worst-case, he’s Rejecting Your Reality, Substituting His Own, and claiming it’s of God.

      • when my closest friend at the time died unexpectedly, I played Solitaire on my iPhone for weeks. That’s all I did. Just played. My emotions were so busy helping others grieve and get by, that all my free time was just spend…playing solitaire.

    • > it very well might be mental illness

      +1

      • The grandiosity of the long quote in the post does give the impression of a detachment from reality that borders on mental illness. But there often is considerable overlap between language indicative of mental illness and the language of religious belief, especially zealous religious belief. To the non-religious world, Christians, and the devotees of other religions, often sound unhinged.

  21. Thank you for this post.
    A number of years ago my nephew died under very tragic circumstances. His parents determined to “celebrate” his life rather than face the reality of their very great loss. They do not talk about his death unless it is framed in the scenario that he is “alive” and forever worshiping in heaven. They have a new “mission” to tell the world that heaven is real and how they have been healed from grief because of that understanding. The ramifications of this have been great as we have never had the freedom to honestly grieve this loss as a family.
    I will never understand what they have experienced and do not judge them but very much blame a deeply flawed religious system and beliefs that seem to have no understanding of what it is to be human and of the grace and love extended to us in Jesus Christ.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Another Homegoing(TM) Horror Story.
      Of a coping mechanism gone horribly wrong.

    • > “celebrate” his life

      Been there, have had to listen to that. My condolences.

    • “. . . very much blame a deeply flawed religious system and beliefs that seem to have no understanding of what it is to be human and of the grace and love extended to us in Jesus Christ.”

      Exactly.

  22. I was at a retreat this weekend where the leader started us with Matthew 7:24-27, the parable of the wise and foolish builders. After letting it sink in for a short time he said there is a lot of bad theology based on this. People coming to the conclusion that if they were Christian bad things would not happen. He pointed out that the storms came to both houses!

    He recounted how in a few year stretch he had lost his job, his wife died, his son broke down and his pension was frozen. All that was left was his relationship with God. And that was what held him. His message: we suffer just like any other human. In the dark places his faith held him

  23. thinking of this:

    “….so that we could advance the Gospel in a way that history books have never even told.”

    I would need to have him explain himself better, but: to me this smells like “GOD is doing (or will do) something greater thru us than any before…..” Maybe I’m oversensitive to the verbiage because I grew up in IHOP-ville. Why place this kind of comparison on ourselves, why the need to be better. Raised from the dead seems like plenty high enough bar, let’s not mess with it.

    I pray healing on this young man, his kids, and extended family for a horrible , and tragic, loss.

  24. I had a thought this morning in the shower. And felt like the Lord spoke to my heart and said: ‘Davey, I want my church, I want my bride to come alive. And if I had asked you, Davey, before this if you were willing to give up your bride so that my bride can come alive, what would you have said?’” he noted with an uneasy chuckle.

    “Of course, like anybody else I said ‘absolutely not. There is no way.’ I’m good with being married and having two little kids, pastoring a church of 120 for the rest of my life. I am good with comfort. And the Lord said, ‘That’s why I didn’t ask you the question beforehand.’ Because sometimes when you say, I surrender all, you mean I surrender some. So you are put in a situation where you have to surrender all,” he continued.

    No.

    No.

    No.

    This is…sad. All my life, hearing that. Seeing my friends believe it. Even teaching it myself.

    All God gives is stones. That grieves me. That angers me. And realizing that has set me free. I don’t know what I am. Enns jokingly said to me I’m like Prince’s symbol, person formerly known as Christian. Maybe I’m an atheist now. I certainly am to whatever God that is above.

    All God gives is stones. Oh what manner of love the father has given unto us…

    • Not only is it sad it’s just wrong.

      “And if I had asked you, Davey, before this if you were willing to give up your bride so that my bride can come alive, what would you have said?’”

      The Church has historically taught that Christ was given up so “his bride could come alive”. I would assume Pastor Blackburn’s message is not that his wife has assumed a role only Christ could take on but such is grief and such is our poor theology of death and grief.

      You mentioned Enns; he has an excellent series titled “Making Peace with Mortality” by guest blogger Dr. Margaret Peterson in which she makes the case that evangelicals have made an idol out of modern medical technology. She writes:

      “We say we have Christian faith, but what we appear to believe is that modern medical treatment is the source of life itself, so that more aggressive medical treatment, even—perhaps especially—of the dying, is by definition more ‘pro-life.’

      We say we have Christian hope, but we appear to equate “hope” with the availability of yet another medical intervention, another treatment, another drug or procedure, that will magically result in the patient’s recovery, or at least in the patient not dying yet.”

      I realize Pastor Blackburn’s tragedy is not a result of disease or illness but I think the same emotions are at play. Enns has another post up today about fear and, though written in a different context, I believe speaks to one of the basic reasons for our reaction to death and our reluctance to grieve: fear. We fear if we allow ourselves to be human, if we allow ourselves to grieve that somehow the gospel is not true. To mask this fear, we wrap death in some bigger meaning, that’s “it’s part of God’s plan” and miss that Christ himself entered into this broken world and himself wept at death.

      No, Stuart you are right to be sad at this teaching.

      • I don’t even know what Christian hope is or looks like. Put your hope in God, who makes all things good? The caveat is that, it’s all in hindsight. We experience, then we interpret or reinterpret to give God the glory. Even in the Scriptures, it’s this way; nothing was written as it happened, all was written later.

        Christian hope is not a miracle. Maybe Christian hope is nothing more than…it’ll all be ok. Fear not. Have faith. Maybe those things are the miracles.

        • I think you answered yourself. Christian hope IS a miracle, that there is life after death, after all looks lost and hopeless.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I had a thought this morning in the shower. And felt like the Lord spoke to my heart and said: ‘Davey, I want my church, I want my bride to come alive. And if I had asked you, Davey, before this if you were willing to give up your bride so that my bride can come alive, what would you have said?’” he noted with an uneasy chuckle.

      In other words, if you get too attached to your wife, God Will Kill Her out of jealousy.

      “LOORD, Take Away All That Stands Between Me and Thee…”
      THAT was the refrain of a sermon I heard on Christianese AM radio in the early Eighties. A sermon that ended with an example of the subject’s wife dying, freeing him up for The Ministry.

      The early Eighties, the only time in my life I actually had a girlfriend. I was so afraid of approaching Ann because with that sermon in my head, I was afraid God would kill her to teach me a lesson. Maybe I should have been stronger towards her, maybe she would have stayed…

      • I’m well acquainted with that lesson. Everything was an idol, God was always jealous. Pick a hobby or anything you like, and God will take it away and speak through it to get through to you.

        Our Heavenly Father gives us stones.

        A friend made an offhanded comment to me last year about my God, the fundy/calvinistic version, being a monster. Wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t relate to her God who loved her and wanted good things in her life and who delighted in seeing her succeed and be prosperous. You know…like a Father.

        Stones.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And once you’ve been indoctrinated into that sort of God (the Cosmic Monster who gives you passions and enjoyment only to force you to give them up on pain of Eternal Hell), you will NEVER be completely rid of it.

          Maybe that’s the reason Princess Celestia (the benevolent, approachable, and even playful god-figure of the current My Little Pony reboot) has such a fan following on her own. Benevolent, approachable, even playful, as much a mother-goddess as a sun-goddess figure who will mother and protect her little ponies.

  25. Ah, death and grief. Fascinating subjects. Anyone who’s lived will face them both. The key for anyone – believers or not – is to approach them “healthily.” I could point to Jesus and say, “If He knew His death had a purpose, isn’t that how we should all view death, as having a purpose? Isn’t that part of the reason for His life here on earth, to ultimately face death as we face it, and to let us know death may look like the end, but isn’t?”

    But while that may provide me comfort, I’m not sure that’s the type of thing to share with someone who’s grieving. A good friend of mine passed away very recently of pancreatic cancer. Here’s the interesting thing about death: while the person DYING might be okay with it, the people who’ll be left behind might NOT be. I think a lot of evangelicals get the two mixed up. I’m happy my friend was okay with his quick slide toward death, but I HATED what his family was going through. I did everything I could to avoid the Christian clichés with his loved ones while also JOYFUL that he was content with his looming end.

    I think we need to keep our mouths shut until we know what specifically will provide comfort, comfort to either the person dying or to the loved ones left behind. Some people want to hear that so-and-so’s death will have meaning, that God will make good come from it. Others do NOT. I think it’s foolish to wade in EITHER WAY before listening for cues as to what will be beneficial and healthy.

    • Good insight Rick. You put your finger on an important way people misunderstand grief. Grief is about me, the wound I have received, the pain I feel, the darkness I’m in. It’s not even really, ultimately about the one I’ve lost but about the broken connection I feel about the one I’ve lost.

      We would not expect someone who lost a leg to “get over it” or to immediately focus on the purpose and meaning of the loss. No. We would focus on finding relief for the pain, promoting healing and ultimately helping our friend adjust to a new way of approaching life. It would take time and we would realize that it will never be our “answers” but the person’s own process of recovery that will ultimately help create a “new normal.”

  26. Patrick Kyle says:

    I am always circumspect in these situations, because the truth is that I know that tragedy and loss will come to me. I fear it and avoid it, but I know it will come, maybe today, maybe in 10 years. This is the way of all flesh and none of us are exempt. Our culture has built billion dollar empires on the avoidance of death and tragedy leaving us unprepared in ways our ancestors were not. I have no doubt that poor pastor is out of his mind right now, but cannot say that I would be any better, though my insanity would probably manifest differently. Lord ave mercy.

    • Thanks for keeping the ballast where it needs to be today, Patrick. I was so hesitant to write this. I tried to go out of my way to keep my focus on the bigger picture and not make this personal.

      Everybody, let’s please remember that. Thanks to all of you for keeping the discussion where it should be.

    • We are all one phone call away from having the world as we know it come crashing down. We are all one bad decision, bad disease, bad cancer cell away from that, too.

      Thank you, Lord, for what I have today.

  27. cheesehed says:

    Excellent post, CM.

    Speaking of the (not all, of course) evangelical penchant for denying reality: I remember years ago, talking with a friend who worked with folks in an outpatient setting, dealing with alcohol abuse. She lived in a large urban city. She observed that outpatients from a large, well-known megachurch in the area were by far the most difficult to work with. They refused to acknowledge there was anything wrong!

  28. My acquaintance with grief doesn’t help me understand other people well. I have felt more grief over the passing of critters than with family members. It bothers me more to pass by roadkill than to hear of mass shootings on the radio. I can observe that others go thru emotions that haven’t hit me and I can deal with that as different strokes. What I can not accept as in any way good are people who turn grief into a life long affair. This just strikes me as narcissistic and unhealthy.

    If I’m not that acquainted with extreme grief, I am well acquainted with depression and post traumatic stress disorder, and feel like they may be related to outright grief, possibly a result of resisting the pain of grief and refusing to go thru it. To me, allowing for individual differences, it seems self-destructive to hang on to extreme grief to the point of making a career out of it. To me it would be like finding out you have toxic levels of lead or mercury in your body and not doing anything to bring them down to an acceptable level of functionality. I’m speaking long term here, not the immediate pain of loss, but it starts with that immediate pain.

    • I’m sorry Charles as one who feels for the road kill every critter I pass. This place will never be what I want. Never. Although it just might be the best of all I could ever have had and that I am not sure of. Since I was little, to little to understand and not that I do much better at it now I have hurt because of this place wetting my pillow with tears before sleep would come.

      Always have I loved God. I cannot remember a time where I didn’t. Now when I feel my mortality more so than anytime so far he becomes my hope of all hope. To tell you the truth I’m scared of where I might be going because even as bad as this seems at times at least I know. What is a love affair with grief. Who could do such a thing. Jesus wept……. He saw their pain and felt it…….. I am sure not one sparrow. I notice don’t you?

      • Every morning when I hang up my bird feeders, I scatter feed on the ground for those who aren’t very good at landing on the feeders. Some doves, some jays, an occasional Cardinal and squirrel, but mostly for the sparrows, who sometimes show up and sometimes don’t. Whatever is left over at the end of the day serves as a treat for a passing deer or possum or coon, maybe a coyote. Always, I think about that scripture of God and the sparrows. Sparrows are pretty much toward the bottom of the pecking order in most peoples’ mind. Someone needs to look out for them.

        The secret to getting thru pain as I have learned it so far is to embrace it and welcome it, be thankful for it, rather than resist it. And then when it has been embraced to that point where a hug has run its course, let it go. Easier said than done. When I cut the end of my finger off a few years back, I was able to put this into practice because of the intensity and immediacy in a way that I’m not so good at with more normal losses.

        For five minutes after the instant shock and jolt of pure pain, I hung on to my injured hand with the other one, squeezing it and calling on Jesus loudly, and doing my best to submerse myself into the pain the way you might jump into freezing water. It was a long five minutes and I wasn’t aware of much else. I was wearing gloves, and after the five minutes the intensity of the pain passed and I pulled off my glove expecting to see a mangled mess of flesh and there was nothing there.

        At this point I could handle it and I drove myself to the hospital and remembered to take a book with me to read while waiting. The first five minutes were crucial and fortunately I knew enough not to resist the pain. I think this is key, tho if you miss it, you can go back later and hug the pain, thank it for the opportunity to learn, and move on as best able. Maybe multiple times. Maybe ongoing. I believe this is the way out of post traumatic stress disorder, which I believe occurs because of resisting the pain rather than embracing it on the way thru. Pain resisted tends to end up lodged in the body and emotions.

        I don’t have chronic pain in my knees to deal with and I recognize that this would be a much different challenge than cutting your fingertip off. It seems to me that the method would be the same, only spread out more in time, and needing doing more often, even continuously. I don’t have personal proof ot this. It seems to work with the pain of getting old if I remember to do it. That remembering is a hard one.

        I had to bury one of my doggies the other day. Went well enough but as I was shoveling the dirt back on top of her body it hit me. In all my life, only the death of beloved dogs has taught me what it means to cry. Not talking about eyes watering or even tears running down the cheeks, not the fake crying of a three year old sitting in a grocery cart wanting Oreos, but loud wailing cries of anguish.That’s what cry means. The sort of thing that folks from around the Mediterranean understand, and which northern Europeans folks like me are most uncomfortable with. Fortunately both times it happened to me, I was alone and far enough from neighbors to be able to let go. Jesus wept at the death of his friend even knowing he would be brought back for another round here on Earth. It’s a human reaction,

        What I don’t understand is why anyone thinks it is better or more desirable here than on the other side. Jesus might have wept for his friend knowing he was going to have to come back and go thru more of the same, only getting harder as the body gives out. It doesn’t bother me so much if a sparrow ends up as a hawk’s lunch. Hawks have to eat too. It bothers me if a sparrow isn’t programmed to judge the speed of an oncoming vehicle or doesn’t realize what it means to see a kid with a BB gun or a .410. Life is hard enough without adding to it.

        For me, life here is about lessons, and maybe the primary lesson is to be grateful for the opportunity to learn and do better. I can see that most folks don’t see things my way. I don’t know what to do about that other than to get on with my lessons as best I understand them. I’m not responsible for other folks’ lessons, and yet there is the inclination to share stories.

        I think about you and the hard way you seem to have to walk thru this life. Harder than mine by far, not as hard as some folks living on the other side of the world, or out in the back woods unnoticed in many places in this world. But also there are what we like to think of as saints scattered thru the world, even beyond the boundaries of Christendom if you want to know the secret truth.

        When all else is taken away. when there is nothing else left but the agony of being battered with a baseball bat and then being nailed up on the side of a barn and left to die a slow death, there is Jesus. I don’t know what else to say about this. Life is hard. Much harder for some than others. Life is hard for a sparrow, but sometimes someone puts out something to eat so you don’t have to work quite so hard, but you still have to keep one eye cocked for the hawk or the cat.

        Lord have mercy. God have mercy. Thanks be to Jesus of Nazareth for staying the course. Jesus help us all please.

    • I cried more at the ending of Old Yeller than any funeral I’ve ever attended. Weird, isn’t it?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My acquaintance with grief doesn’t help me understand other people well. I have felt more grief over the passing of critters than with family members. It bothers me more to pass by roadkill than to hear of mass shootings on the radio.

      Join the club.
      I’ve always been able to empathize far more with fictional characters than with RL people.
      Not the sort of thing about yourself you’d like to become public knowledge.

  29. Great post. I think in the case of evangelicalism the lack of ability to deal with or accept grief on its own terms is part of a larger issue. American evangelicalism doesn’t really deal with anything negative on its own terms; it is constantly trying to overcome or be victorious in some way. It’s theology and practice are simply skewed that way. It’s why there’s no real solid theology or practice of lament either.

    My mother has severe dementia and as a result is not the person we once knew. I have friends whose six-month old granddaughter is gravely ill and not likely to survive. In both these cases I see no path of victory and no overcoming. What I see is a hard road of love and loss and tears and sadness. The most I can assure anyone of is that we are together on that road, and Jesus is with us on that road. Beyond that I really know nothing. And that is OK.

    • My mom passed away earlier this year from Alzheimer’s. It’s such a weird, slow death, and takes such committed and loving and painful care-giving.

      • Indeed. For us the loss means that the grieving has already started.

        • I hate to say it, but I barely shed a tear at my mom’s funeral service. Who she was had died long ago. My grieving process had begun many years ago and ended long before she passed away.

          • I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral, though I did cry a few months before, when I saw him cry at the realization that he was not long for this world: it was Christmastime, and he knew that it would be his last Christmas in this world.

            I cried once, briefly and convulsively , when I received the news of my mother’s death.

            Closure through grief? I’ve never experienced it. In this world, I look for no closure.

  30. Christiane says:

    the possibility of mental illness makes sense when examining some of the content of the bereaved husband’s words . . . . it would at least explain that which we know is at best ‘irritating’ to people who have loved someone dearly and lost them suddenly in dreadful circumstances . . .

    my first reaction to the husband’s ‘reaction’ was unprintable . . . I suppose ‘angry’ can substitute . . . I had to try to put it into some kind of framework . . . the only think I know is that whatever ‘Christianity’ the husband hoped to better by his response . . . I don’t want any part of it . . . I wouldn’t belong there . . . you would have to be very numb to belong there, yes

  31. The idea that grief must have some purpose, and when it occurs must be used toward the realization of that purpose, is part of the larger mistake that Christians often make about the world: That it exists only as a platform on which to make converts.

    But the world exists in its own right, quite apart from its utility, and is not merely a stage, and the things that happen in it, both joyous and painful, can’t all be plugged into a narrative of utility or conversion. There is something frightening in recognizing and accepting that truth, but there’s also something liberating.

    • I don’t mean to say that Christians are the only ones who make this kind of mistake. I know a couple of people who have a New Age (is that still the correct term?) religious philosophy, including belief in karma and reincarnation. For them, everything that happens, including death and suffering, fits perfectly into the system of always and everywhere reaping what you sow: if you die as the result of being murdered, well, you must’ve murdered someone in a previous life, if not this life.

      All of existence is rationalized as a stage on which karma plays out its game of tit for tat. The conversion that’s supposedly worked by this process is that of turning bad karma into good karma by doing good deeds. The world exists only as a venue for the individual to pay off their bad karma, and stock up on the good karma. Things do not exist in themselves, or outside of the narrative of karma and reincarnation.

    • “But the world exists in its own right, quite apart from its utility, and is not merely a stage, and the things that happen in it, both joyous and painful, can’t all be plugged into a narrative of utility or conversion. There is something frightening in recognizing and accepting that truth, but there’s also something liberating.” Excellent point, Robert.

      • There have been times when I was walking with someone, or several someones, in the woods, and we came upon an unexpected and beauteous view, a take-your-breath-away view, and I have found myself silently hoping that they wouldn’t ruin it by talking about the God (as I expected them to do, and as they might as well have once my own mind got caught up in thinking about the God, and even pleading with him that they wouldn’t talk about him…Lol!).

        • Now how those two “the”s got in there before God, I don’t know….please to edit them in your reading. For crying out loud.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          There have been times when I was walking with someone, or several someones, in the woods, and we came upon an unexpected and beauteous view, a take-your-breath-away view, and I have found myself silently hoping that they wouldn’t ruin it by talking about the God…

          As in not wanting a Jesus Juke to ruin a wonderful moment.

          I lost a lot of my passion for astronomy because of Automatic Jesus Juke Responses. Learned to keep my treasures clutched tight and kept secret.

    • I meant to say:…The idea that suffering must have some purpose, and when it occurs must be used toward the realization of that purpose….

      • Like suffering on the cross, but much earlier in the garden. In actuality it was through his whole life here in the march where he was going. I wonder much about his earlier years and maybe there was a joy with his family and friends but the manual doesn’t say it and Jesus never wrote it. What i would give to see the writing in the sand. Like your take on things Robert and this whole post was extremely good. Thank you and all.

  32. Thank you for this article. I haven’t read any comments here, but I would like to state that I believe we do not always understand the reasons for loss. I believe we are playing God when we try to assign a purpose or some “good outcome” from a loss. I believe that, in some cases, we will not understand any of this during this lifetime. I don’t feel free to say these things in my circles, so thank you for letting me saying it here. I have felt quite guilty about this for a long time. Now, though I don’t feel at peace about my loss, I feel peace about not feeling peace. That is a good thing.

  33. CM,

    Thank you for the great analysis. I’m blessed, right now, in that I’m not dealing with the devastating loss of a loved one. But, like many of your readers, I’m trying to love people that are. Your words were very honest. As believers, I think many of us try to spiritualize everything. Sometimes life sucks. Your words reminded me that not everything has to follow a formula. Thanks again.

  34. Thanks, Chaplain, for expressing the thoughts I have had. When my first wife died, I did received no consolation or no messages about the “reason.” I retained my Christian faith in spite of many well meaning friends and clergy.

  35. Sorry for the spelling errors in my post. I got in a hurry.

  36. I don’t look at Davey Blackburn’s public actions and statements as grief. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying he’s not in grief. Or not grieving properly. Or not grieving publicly. I don’t know these things.

    What it appears to me he’s doing is simple theodicy: He’s trying to defend God. There are gonna be lots of people who use death—or really any of their hindered expectations, or in a pinch, those of others—as an excuse to hate God, bash God, slander God, leave God, stop believing in God, or otherwise go apostate. Blackburn loves God and doesn’t want that to happen. So he’s quickly come up with an explanation which defends God.

    I don’t believe every death requires an explanation from God. He didn’t give one to Job; he doesn’t really owe us one. Humans die, and it sucks, but it’s life. Some deaths are meaningless, as we know from Ecclesiastes. However, Blackburn’s convinced himself of its validity—otherwise he wouldn’t preach it.

    And who knows? Maybe God did speak to him in the shower. I know C.S. Lewis claimed in Grief Observed that it’s awfully hard to hear God when we’re thrashing about in grief. But I don’t at all believe Lewis’s experience is universal. As we know from Lamentations, various lament psalms, Moses, Jeremiah, Job, Acts, and so forth: Plenty of us actually hear God better once we’ve lost hope in everything else but him.

    Anyway I look at Blackburn’s grief as distinct from his theodicy. Two different deals: Dealing with loss, and defending God’s goodness. Hope he’s dealing with his grief, outside of the theodicy thing—that he’s doesn’t expect his explanation to take care of his emotions. I expect he’s not so naïve.

  37. I’m beginning to think that Orthodox Jews are onto something when they set aside an entire year for mourning.

  38. Thank you for this, Mike.