Because Jesus has come, we know that everything is different. We’ve heard the greatest news in the world. Sin and death are overcome. We have a love that cannot be lost. We’re members of God’s family. We walk and live in the kingdom of light. Our future is certain. We’re loved. And we’re safe.
Since we know these things, we might expect that there is nothing left to feel bad about, right? But what if you know these things about the gospel and still feel bad? You don’t just hurt because of what happened, but you also feel ashamed that the truths of the gospel aren’t touching you. You feel different from all the Christians around you who, by all appearances, seem to have grasped this in a way that you haven’t. Do you ever feel this way? Somehow you aren’t just suffering from whatever happened to you, but you’re also suffering because you feel like a spiritual failure. Somehow, because you hurt so badly, you also have failed to really “get” the gospel.
If you’ve ever felt this way, even for a moment, then your heart breaks for people who feel this way most of the time. My point is this. Sometimes for Christians, there is another loss beneath our suffering and it makes everything even worse. It’s the loss that comes with the feeling that we are not really God’s children. Because if we really were his children, if we really got the gospel, our other losses wouldn’t touch us so deeply. But this is not true. These moments of pain and loss are not moments of spiritual failure. Loss and grief are not contrary to being a child of God. They are part of the very definition of what it means to be a child of God.
Let me say that again. Loss and grief are part of the very definition of what it means to be a child of God. And when we honestly engage our losses, as painful as it may be, we are walking in step with the spirit of Christ.
Look at Romans chapter 8. This is a passage that clearly shows us that our experiences of loss and suffering are central to our identity as Christ’s children. Listen to verses 15–17:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. And now if we are children then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his joy.
Here Paul gives us an image of what it means to be a Christian that may surprise you. It is the image of a child crying out to God—to Abba, Father—in distress. There are a couple of things that I want you to notice. First of all, as a beloved child of God, you have the freedom to cry out to God. Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t feel pain. We are not to be stoics who pretend life doesn’t hurt and call that faith. Instead, we are to turn to Abba Father in our distress and cry out to him.
Second, in showing us this, Paul is pointing to Jesus himself, the only begotten son of God. He reminds us of Jesus’ own wrestling in the garden of Gethsemane. You know the story. On the night that Jesus is betrayed, he is facing the ultimate loss. He is facing the loss of his own life and knows he is to carry the weight of all of the world’s loss, with its guilt and defilement, to the cross. The Gospels tell us that as he considered this, he was overwhelmed with sorrow. His reaction was not stoic, and he also didn’t keep it to himself. He poured out his heart to his Heavenly Father to see if there was any other way to accomplish his will. And do you remember the words that Jesus cried out to God? “Abba, Father.”
If Jesus brings his sorrows and loss to the Father, it shows us that we are not alone in our grief and our need for help. Instead, we are doing what the Son of God himself did. We are doing what children do, leaning on our Father. It shows we really do get the gospel.
This blog was adapted from Winston T. Smith’s talk entitled “Loss: The Only Door to God” presented at the 2014 CCEF National Conference: Loss.