The Good Grieving Guide (a lesson from grief)

Please do not read this post if you are grieving the loss of a loved one. If you are seeking comfort and help in your time of loss, please read two other posts of mine which aim to deal with the complex emotions of grief from a biblical perspective.

Instead, this post relates to the spiritual discipline of mourning or grieving for sin. Thomas Watson writes in his Doctrine of Repentance:

…sorrow for sin must exceed sorrow at the grave; and with good reason, for in the burial of the dead it is only a friend who departs, but with sin God departs. [p24]

When my father died, the sorrow was physical, the pain lasted for a few days before beginning to subside. Can I say that my sorrow for sin has ever come close to this? Probably not. There have been times, like at the communion table in St Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore, when God broke me and I sobbed for my sin. The intensity was great but the duration was measured in minutes and the effect for hours not days (though to some extent that day still affects me as my father’s death does).

Watson asks, should repentance and sorrow always be this intense? He argues that whilst we should be constantly repenting of sin and turning to Christ as Redeemer, there are two times when sorrow should be greatest:

1. At the communion table, when our “eyes should be fresh broached with tears, and the stream of sorrow overflow…The more bitterness we taste in sin, the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ.”
2. In the hour of death. “This should be a weeping season…We should repent now that we have sinned so much and wept so little…We should repent now that we have loved Christ no more, that we have fetched no virtue from him and brought no more glory to him.”

Just as the rest of life would be unbearable if grief continued with the same intensity as at the graveside, so life would be unbearable if grief for sin was constant and intense. Yet God appoints seasons where we are aware of the offence we have caused God and are more sensitive to our sin. In those seasons, we can draw comfort from this passage from Isaiah 54:6-10, as the Lord promises that his desertion is momentary and that his everlasting love in Christ is greater than his wrath.

For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. 7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer. 9 “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

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