Dec

16

2012

Kathleen Nielson|10:00 PM CT

Where Shall We Put This Grief?

Where shall it go, all this grief? We do not have the depths in us to hold it. Any death is grievous. Any senseless murder is more than we can take in. But children. Many children. I love the moments just after recess when schoolchildren are all kind of flushed and sweaty and a little disheveled and lively, bordering on rowdy. The classroom pulses and smells earthy and alive! There's not a place more overflowing with life and hope than an elementary classroom. The grief of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, is as large as all that bursting life and hope. It has no boundaries. Where shall we put a grief so large? We do not have the depths in us to hold it. We must not pretend we do.

Tears cannot help us hold it. Tears are the overflow as grief pushes in and finds not nearly enough room. Tears are grief's edges turned liquid, but there are never enough of them to lessen the weight or make room for the grief to fit with any comfort. But still we weep. For ages we have wept. Jeremiah knew this weeping, this deep kind, for children. His weeping became part of the first Christmas story, when wicked Herod (afraid of a child) killed all the male children in Bethlehem two years old or younger. Matthew recognizes this weeping:

A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.

(Matthew 2:18, quoted from Jeremiah 31:15)

Anger cannot help us hold it. Anger strikes up a fist-fight with the grief, pummeling it and making tiny splashes in a hurricane-size wave. The comfort of anger is temporary, lasting only as long as the passion of our pummeling. And then the grief multiplies, like a tsunami pulled up by a rising tide that sends it the next moment crashing into shore.

We could give up the effort to find a place for this grief, letting it loose and watching it seep into every light-filled crevice, finally leaving us surrounded by the dark and either despairing or perhaps just oblivious, forgetting about the light. When grief takes over, it grows, allowing and inviting more deeds that can be done only in the dark. Perhaps the grievous deed of 12/14 reflects a culture that is darker than we think. Many of our younger generation suffer from fatal oblivion, desperately needing to be reminded of the light.

There Is a Place

There is a place for this grief. The only place large and deep and strong enough to hold it is the heart of God. He is eternal; his being reaches from eternity past to eternity future. Everything that exists came from him, made by the breath of his mouth. He is other than and larger than all of it. He can hold our grief.

God can not only hold our grief. God can heal our grief. Not in a little quick way, but in a huge, eternal way---a way that matches the extent of it. God sent his Son that first Christmas to take on the darkness, to invite into himself the whole universe-sized wave of sin and pain and brokenness and grief. Jesus the Son of God held it all, on the cross, suffered it all for us, with an eternal capacity for suffering that we cannot imagine. Jesus paid it all, with his death. Because he is God, he could suffer so, and he could pay perfectly, and he could rise victorious. "The light shines in the darkness," John writes, "and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). I will speak those words, even in the darkness.

Where shall it go, all this grief? It is here, and we must find (and we must share) a way to hold it today, on the way to eternity. It is a large grief, and we do not have the depths in us to hold it ourselves. God does. God has, in Jesus his Son. Such grief as grows in the darkness can be held and healed only in the heart of God---the eternal God who made us and who offers eternal life to us in his Son. "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4).

Kathleen Nielson serves as director of women's initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She holds MA and PhD degrees in literature from Vanderbilt University and a BA from Wheaton College. Author of the Living Word Bible studies, she speaks often at women's conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible. She shares a heart for students with her husband, Niel, president of Covenant College from 2002 to 2012 and now leading an enterprise developing resources for Christian schools around the world.

Categories: Noteworthy, Opinion, Theology
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  • David Baker

    Your article is very good - thank you.

    However, forgive me. As a UK-based observer of these ongoing shooting massacres in public places in the USA, it seems completely incomprehensible to all of us outside the United States why you as a nation do not put in effective, sensible and humane gun controls.

    We are, if I am honest, completely baffled by this - and while we weep with you and for you, we also shake our heads in amazement and despair that your country seems unable to deal with this issue.

    We also I think would like to know how Christians are campaigning to ensure proper gun regulations (as I assume they must surely be?).

    So, is not one answer to "where shall we put this grief?" the response "into prayer and action to ensure much tighter gun regulation"?

    • amy cobb

      Has tighter gun regulations worked in the UK? Your prayers are misguided if that is the response to this tragedy. Gun regulation does nothing for the root problem-the heart. Direct your prayers to that area and the healing of the families that have had their lives torn apart.

      • David Baker

        @ amy cobb

        Thanks, Amy.

        To answer your question factually, yes, on the whole, gun regulations work well in the UK: According to the "United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - Homicides by firearm statistics 2011", the UK, with firearms tightly controlled by law, has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world with 0.07 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009, compared to the United States' 3.0. (See http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/Homicide/Globa_study_on_homicide_2011_web.pdf)

        You are right that gun regulation does not change a person's heart - only Christ can do that: but might thinking and praying and acting about tighter gun regulation most likely be an appropriate response for Christians whose hearts are being changed by Christ as they seek to respond to tragedy in a way that brings their culture more into line with what Jesus wants?

        I don't wish to comment in any way insensitively at a time of national tragedy in the US, and my comments are in no way intended to compound the grief that is felt. But the issue of American gun control does perplex and puzzle us very greatly outside the US.

        Grace and peace.

        • http://thenface2face.wordpress.com Karen Butler

          I guess it is because we have not yet developed online rituals of mourning that we have to put up with this behavior. Can we think of this essay as a kind of Kaddish for the dead? I am losing patience with the interruptions of lobbyists for gun regulation. You *are* commenting insensitively. There is a season for everything, there is a time for grief and a time for action. Can we at least wait until their little bodies are completely cold and in the ground to talk about what to do about assault rifles? Even Obama was willing to wait for an appropriate time to talk gun policy.

          Katherine, thank you for expressing so well what I feel.

          • http://thenface2face.wordpress.com Karen Butler

            David, I am sorry for laying into you. I am still somewhat raw. You did try to be sensitive, and it was another comment that led you to expand. Please forgive me.

            • David Baker

              @ Karen - bless you. No need to apologise, and I am sorry for any offence caused, which was not my intention. Grace and peace.

    • Melody

      David, I understand why you, in the UK, see it differently than we do, but to us it isn't that simple.

    • David J.

      David,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The reality is that having guns in this country has saved thousands of lives over the years. These, however, are not the stories you all get to read about over there. The media takes great care to ensure you get to read about only tragedies - early and often.

      The other reality is that the US has a gang, drug, and crime culture that is not in any way comparable to that of any other country. If more gun control is introduced, we are simply disarming the good folks and and giving the criminals a leg up. I ask you - who will turn in guns if they try to disarm the public? About which guns does the government have information? The answers are of course the good folks (the ones who follow laws), and the legal guns. But there are millions and millions of guns in the hands of people who don't care about laws, and who absolutely will NOT be affected by any form of gun control. I, for one, prefer these folks not to be running reckless in our society with no one but the police to protect us - whose job, primarily, when it comes to crime and murder, is to write down witness information and zip up the bag.

      • amy cobb

        Thank you for your insight. My husband runs a small business in a suburb of Atlanta. It has been broken into twice after hours but one evening a man was bold enough to come in during closing with only my husband there. My husband was in the military and has a permit to carry -that evening when evil showed up to rob him of money and possibly his life his gun was a definite deterrent. The presence of an even playing field made the robber change his mind that evening. My God is an ever present help in trouble and in this case my husbands 357 was used for good. Everyone walked away-not only was my husband spared but the man who was allowed to leave without a murder to contend with in his soul. My grandfather always said," better to be judged by 12 than be carried by 6."

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  • casey

    David,
    Thanks for the comments. Oddly, I don't see much push for tighter gun control after these shootings--at least not from Christians. I think a lot of it has to do with how American politics are aligned. For a variety of good reasons, many Christians align themselves with the Republican party, a party that is also pro-guns.

    When I raise some of the same points you've made in your post about the need for tighter gun control, I often get a confused look. Or someone will say that more liberal gun laws would've thwarted the shooter. Why? Because if folks were able to carry guns, then surely someone would've been around to shoot this person before he shot them.

    Thanks for the UK perspective. Of course, there's a time to just cry over what happened. But the tragedy should also spur us to action, and you've provided some insight into ways forward.

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  • http://www.nancyguthrie.com Nancy Guthrie

    Such rich truth and so beautifully said. "Tears are grief's edges turned liquid." Yes.

  • http://www.gospelgrace.net/ Luma

    Bless you for this.

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  • Kathy Snyder

    Thank you for expressing our grief so poetically, and for pointing us back to our only source of hope and light.

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  • http://trans-parents-y.com Zipporah Bird

    My blog post on Newtown was so hopeless. This is what I wanted to say, but couldn't see past the grief to hope. Thank you.

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