when grief is overwhelming

Like many, the images and stories pouring forth from Gaza over the last couple of months have shocked and horrified me.

I cannot even begin to understand the desperation of those living in Gaza. I have no reference point to even begin to imagine the horror those who have been taken hostage, what their families must be enduring or what the recovery will involve for those that have been released. I am unable to comprehend the depths of national grief Israel feels following the attack on October 7. I also cannot even begin to grasp the depth of hatred or desperation that would lead people to launch such a violent attack. And I am left without words at the suffering which the people of Palestine have experienced through Israel’s response to Hamas’ wickedness. And whilst I don’t completely understand, I grieve deeply. And my question is – what do I do with this?

I also grieve the local ripples I have seen closure to home.

Living in Melbourne, Australia, I have watched police marshalling to disperse a group, believing it good to stand on the steps of Flinders St station in the Melbourne CBD holding a Nazi salute.

It has shocked me to hear people share how they are taking steps to increase security measures around their house because they no longer feel safe.

It has left me stunned and in disbelief seeing others I know hauled with abuse because of their race.  

And I grieve.

And my heart asks: what do you do with grief arising from conflict that has no foreseeable solution?

To be honest, I don’t have a simple, clear and concise answer to this question. I am still working it through. So, I share some reflections that have surfaced as I have pondered this question, trusting that if, like me, you find yourself in the place wrestling with grief from conflict and evil that has no foreseeable solution, it will help in bringing comfort.

We can share it

I was recently reminded of a verse found in Genesis 6 that describes God’s reaction to the evil he saw in the world in the days before Noah (Gen 6:5). In Gen 6:6 it says, 

“The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

Whilst there are some theological challenges in this verse [1], it reminds me God gets my grief.

There was no quick fix solution to overcome the evil God saw in his creation, which he described as being very good only a few chapters earlier. In response, God (like me), was deeply troubled.

I am glad to read this!

It means God gets evil. It means God is not indifferent, aloof, or so otherworldly that he cares nothing of the evil we see in this world. He not only sees the evil, he feels and understands its impact.

It means I can share with him my grief, knowing the one whom I share it with understands and affirms it.

We can hope

God also responds to evil.

In response to the conflict and evil he saw in Gen 6, God decides to bring destruction and an end to the evil he saw. Through the flood all would be destroyed, save Noah and his family and two of every kind of animal. In his grief, God did not act in blind rage or revenge and eliminate all of humanity or destroy all creation. He brought righteous judgment against evil.  

Years later, God would again bring righteous judgement against the evil in this world. But this time, it was not by bringing destruction on humanity, but by taking the ultimate consequence of evil, death, onto himself in Jesus as he was nailed to the cross, innocent of evil, as a ransom for us. It is an act that brings hope.

Hope that by turning away from evil, forgiveness can be found and justice still met.

But hope also because Jesus promises that in the future, he will return. Evil will be removed once and for all. It will give way to a future where there will be no more weeping, crying or pain (Rev 21:1-4) for evil will be removed.

Hope that allows me to pray, ‘let your kingdom come.’ (Matthew 6:10)

We can love

In Romans 6:8 we read:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Guiding God’s response to evil and conflict is his love. What led God to bring judgement in Gen 6 and save Moses and humanity through him? His love.

What led him to bear the cost of our evil on himself? His love. 

What motivates him to promise that he will one day remove all evil and conflict from this world? His love.

So, rather than letting my grief lead to hatred or bitterness, we can seek love and follow Jesus’ instructions, praying for those who do evil and with whom I might be in conflict. (Matthew 5:44). 

Living the life of a peacemaker is not always easy. We all need encouragement as we seek to do so, and this can be all the more true around Christmas. As we approach this special time of year, when we remember God brought hope into the world through Jesus taking on the nature of a servant, being born as a child let us be ones who bring hope and peace through love.

If you are looking for encouragement and want to wrestle with how to live as a peacemaker in the world today, we encourage you to begin or continue this journey with us in 2024. Keep an eye on our website for training dates, hubs and other events that will commence in Feb 2024.   

May the God of peace be with you, bless you, sustain you and give you hope. 

This devotional was written by Wayne Forward. Wayne is the CEO of PeaceWise. He loves Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” He is committed to helping as many people as possible of every age know and experience this promise for themselves.

[1] Gen 6:6 has proved a challenging verse for many because on the surface it seems to suggest God changed his mind on humanity and was taken surprise by sin and evil, bringing into question key attributes of God like his foreknowledge and unchangeability (immutability). But these challenges are readily navigated. To understand how, please read this great explanation.

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