This book grew out of Dr. John Luke Terveen's own experience with grief and loss resulting from his fourteen-year-old daughter's death. he scoured books looking for comfort but found the Bible itself to be his greates source of hope, comfort, wise counsel, and encouragement.
After reviewing more than 200 books on grief and loss, he discovered that none investigated biblical passages discussing grief and loss. He set out to fill the huge, unmet need for a book that helps Christians embrace relevant Scriptures more fully and seriously in the midst of their mourning.
The biblical selections deal with the hard questions, honest passions, and divine hope that only one who has walked down the path of sorrow could write about. Topics such as resurrection, the second coming, heaven, the resurrection body, doubt, anger, guilt, and dashed dreams are covered with great care to minister to the hearts of those who are grieving.
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Hope for the Brokenhearted
God's Voice of Comfort in the Midst of Grief and Loss
By John Luke Terveen
David C. CookCopyright © 2006 John Luke Terveen
All rights reserved.
WILL FAITH SURVIVE?
When a crisis of faith edges you near the brink of despair and unbelief, enter again into God's sanctuary to worship, and there embrace anew both God himself and his true eternal perspectives on life.
In the sorrowful season following the loss of Rachel, in the spring of 1999, I experienced a real crisis of faith. I found attending church to be especially difficult, as bouncy praise choruses seemed to fall flat and even felt false. The simple little chorus "God is so good. God is so good. God is so good. He's so good to me" presented a special struggle for me. How in the world could a good God allow such a loving, believing, and pure-hearted girl to die? What's "good" about that? "God is so good. He's so good to me"? Honestly, sometimes I almost choked on the words. And so my struggle of faith would go, driving me to the cliff edge of despair and even unbelief.
Nevertheless, my wife and I continued to go to church and enter into worship. Where else would we go? Over time, as again and again we came to worship in God's house, we sensed that we had come into his very presence. We entered to worship—usually weakly, sometimes awkwardly, and frequently tearfully. Yet in the community of his people we experienced the Scriptures read, the songs sung, the sermons shared ... and bit by bit, through these humble acts of worship, I encountered God's real presence with me again, and I embraced anew both God himself and eternal realities about the life of faith here and life hereafter. Hope was reawakened. Though such a struggle has ebbed and flowed, at that time I experienced a real turning point in the renewal of my faith and a reawakened hope for the future.
What an encouragement, then, to discover in Psalm 73 a fellow struggler—Asaph (composer of twelve psalms and a worship choir leader), who also wrestled mightily with this issue. Here in a psalm/song, Asaph exhibits a mature fruit of the faith life, born out of his honest struggles. Through Psalm 73, God's Word calls out to us: When a crisis of faith edges you near the brink of despair and unbelief, enter again into God's sanctuary to worship and there embrace anew both him and true eternal life perspectives.
Edging Near the Cliff of Despair and Unbelief (Ps. 73:1–16)
The first sixteen verses of Psalm 73 reveal a basic problem that drives Asaph crazily careening toward the cliff edge of despair and unbelief: Why do good people suffer while bad people seem to prosper? This issue has befuddled generations of deep thinkers. Yet this presents no mere intellectual dilemma or theological puzzle for Asaph but is a matter of life and death—a deadly serious question of the survival of faith itself. Psalm 73 gives his honest confession, a window into the soul of an ordinary man struggling for a real communion of faith with his God. Will faith survive? It is no idle question, neither for him nor for us.
Foundation and Foothold
Almost curiously, Asaph begins with his positive confession that God surely is good (v. 1), though it becomes immediately apparent that he has not always been so sure of that conclusion, nor is it one to which he came easily. He clings to this foundational truth, almost anxiously pushing it up to the front of his song as if he needs to say it out loud before the long and desperately dark thoughts that follow. It is a prime principle, a fine conclusion—but a problematic one, for it begs the question: In a life of woes, what sense does it make to hold on to a belief in a God who is good? Indeed, the force of this question so rattles Asaph's spiritual cage that he poetically says he nearly lost his "foothold," slipped, and fell (v. 2). Why he nearly tumbled down now dominates his thoughts in his song.
Asaph looks around at people who totally disrespect God—who are dishonest and even arrogant about it—and sees that life is pretty good for them. They have their health, wealth, the respect of others, and a relatively untroubled existence. When he sees this, it magnifies his own sense of loss in his suffering. He feels deprived and denied of what good people, people "pure in heart" and not bad people, ought to receive. Instead, he sees the bad guys of the world better off than he is, prospering and seemingly immune to the hard knocks they so richly deserve. In his vivid description of this (vv. 3–12), two emotions especially enter his heart—embittered envy and frustrated, simmering anger.
Asaph confesses his envious spirit (vv. 3–5). Perhaps nothing blinds us so much as envy and the sense of grievance that often accompanies loss. Deprived of what we perceive as "ours" by all rights, it bothers us to see others who still have those things, those people, or those relationships. We're bitterly reminded not only of our past loss but of our present and future denials as well. The blinding power of envy is then unleashed.
Following the death of our daughter, one of the more difficult things for us was just to see her young teenage friends. We loved them and appreciated their good intentions toward us, but their presence hurt. Even now, years later, when I see one of her friends somewhere—now grown older—I sometimes find myself avoiding them. I envy their health, their joy, and their life. Even more troublesome yet can be a simple trip to the grocery store or to the local mall, only to see a mother and her young teenage daughter walking happily together, shopping, and talking. The loss is magnified and envy creeps in unbidden. That should be us. The list of experiences that create an embittered envy goes on—girls in their lovely prom dresses, a televised high school volleyball tournament, graduation, wedding gowns, and little grandchildren. We should have had that; it should have been ours.
Often closely related to envy, a frustrated anger may also rise up (vv. 6–12). Especially in view of bad people prospering, Asaph indignantly complains that they wear their arrogance like so much jewelry (v. 6); do not hesitate to step on people cruelly to get what they want (vv. 6–8); verbally and physically mistreat others (v. 8); and, worst of all, totally disrespect God (vv. 9–11). With frustration mounting, he grumbles that these foul fat cats seem to have a life of ease and increasing prosperity (v. 12). The bad get blessed while the righteous get ripped off.
It drives Asaph to wonder aloud whether devoting his life to being loyal to God and trusting him—being "pure in heart" (vv. 1, 13)—has been "in vain," just a giant waste of time (vv. 13–14). Is faith in God futile? Wrestling mightily with a grievous loss, C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed rails at length against God on this count, broaching openly the matter of God knowing what he was doing. Lewis almost loses it, intemperately wondering whether God took some perverse pleasure in the suffering of good people—whether God was a "Cosmic Sadist." Surely God could do better! Lewis's frustrated outpouring of his soul's anguished anger, teetering on the edge of despair and unbelief, shares much in common with Asaph. Their bracing brand of honesty unnerves us, although many of us know that feeling well. It may remain unspoken, and we may feel it unsafe to voice it, but it is there—a simmering, angry frustration. In the morning, Asaph drags himself out of bed, wondering if God is somehow punishing him (v. 14).
This is dealt with in a meaningful way in a television series called Joan of Arcadia. The series revolves around high school teenager Joan—a thinly veiled allusion to Joan of Arc—her parents, a wheelchair-bound older brother, and a nerdy genius younger brother. Aside from Joan receiving regular, albeit perplexing, guidance from figures representing God, one major subplot concerns her athletic big-man-on-campus older brother who was crippled in a car accident. At the wheel, drunk, had been his best friend. Of course the drunk driver friend walks away uninjured as so commonly and irritatingly happens in real life. Each character wrestles in a different way with this loss, though the emotions of envy, frustration, anger, guilt, and depression bubble repeatedly to the surface. How they deal with these feelings in the varying contexts of real-life relationships: work, school, family, church—often becomes the insightful heart-hinge upon which the show turns. How like Asaph in Psalm 73, where similar feelings form the spiritual heart-hinges upon which his song's message turns.
One such spiritual turning point occurs when Asaph remembers the other members of his family of faith (v. 15). His experience of suffering does not take place in a vacuum but affects others he cares for deeply. In light of this relationship, he pulls back from lashing out publicly with his feelings, sensing that it would have betrayed their communion of faith and love. In a way, his faith family becomes for him a needed brake and even a sort of signpost directing him back to God.
Having now fully vented, Asaph feels worn out emotionally and spiritually by his tireless "why" questions. He grimly concludes that all his considerable efforts at figuring this out ended in failure—he still has no answer (v. 16). In fact, he found the effort downright "painful" (KJV) and "oppressive." His deep yearning for an explanation produced nothing, it seems, but an oppressive gloom hanging over him now like a cloud.
In Psalm 73, Asaph sounds a lot like the book of Job—just a simpler and shorter version. It might be called Job-in-a-nutshell. In Job, some "comforters" approached him in the midst of his suffering and offered a variety of answers to his painful "why" questions. But Job's comforters brought neither answer nor comfort. Even today such comforters may come—seemingly more with their agenda than ours—and all too often leave behind equally dismal results.
Some might say it was fruitless or even wrong for Asaph—or us—to go down this impassioned path of anguished questioning. "Don't ask why," they counsel. "Don't even go there," they warn. But Asaph does "go there" and without abandoning his faith. His doubts do not lead to unbelief. Only real faith could be troubled by such things. Is it okay to ask such questions? Yes, so long as we do not descend into endless self-pity; despise God as evil; or cut ourselves off from meaningful, healing relationships. It is critical, however, to continue the conversation with God as a true dialogue. We must continue talking honestly with him, but also—and this is the part we sometimes forget—listening carefully to what he does choose to reveal with a mind to doing something about it. Yet it seems Asaph first had to fail in order to understand, for only in declaring the reflections of his human mind a failure do his eyes begin to look beyond himself and what they now see for resolution. Only then does he perceive anew a pathway through his pain and back toward hope.
Enter Again into the Sanctuary of God (PS. 73:17)
That cloud of frustrated and oppressive unknowing would have remained hanging over Asaph's head had he not "entered the sanctuary of God" (v. 17). This single line of the psalm dramatically marks the turning point of Asaph's spiritual journey with the little word till. When he enters again into God's sanctuary, his path takes on a new direction.
Interestingly, Asaph was probably involved in leadership of the choir music for the Jerusalem tabernacle/temple. (He may have lived to see Solomon's temple built.) Attending "church" was familiar ground for him. In the midst of a crisis of faith, however, such familiar ground may be awkward and painful because of its very familiarity—and therefore all the more tempting to avoid. I vividly remember, after my mother's sudden and unexpected death, my father sitting in church that next Sunday, painfully and tearfully alone despite his children nearby. Going to church was no easy decision that Lord's Day, since he anticipated how just being there would sharpen his sense of loss. Yet he went, sobbing in his seat, feeling bereft of his beloved wife and friend of over forty years. Little did I expect to undergo a similar feeling when my daughter died. Just going to church, where mere days before she had sat next to us and sung the songs of faith, so sharpened our sense of loss and emptiness that we felt tempted to avoid entering into the sanctuary of God. Yet we, too, entered again, feeling bankrupt, broken, and desperate. I discovered that just being there was an act of faith. In such a time simply entering constitutes a momentous act of trust and hope—a critical crossroads at the beginning of the process of rediscovering hope.
Taking Time to Worship
Now Asaph knows that he does not enter the sanctuary of God to just sit, but with determined purpose—to worship. The "sanctuary" was well understood to be the place where God's own presence dwelt in a real way and where his people would gather to ascribe glory and honor to him as well as to listen for his Word to them. So there Asaph encounters the living God, together in communion with God's people, through sharing in humble acts of worship. However weakly, doubtfully, awkwardly, or tearfully, still he comes, trusting that there he will meet his God. Worship consists not merely in the acts we perform or the words we speak, but also in the humble and trusting listening for the voice of God. For, in that submitted listening, we hear anew what an all-wise and all-loving God does desire to reveal to us. It may not be our questions or the answers we would like—he does remain sovereign—but learning in God's presence what he does reveal holds the key to the rediscovery of hope and the survival of faith itself.
Embrace Anew True Eternal Perspectives on Life (Ps. 73:18–28)
In worship, God helps Asaph peer beyond the mere here and now and reveals the final destiny of both those who have little or no place for God in their lives and those who do. Asaph embraces anew God's true eternal perspectives on life, and so, too, must we embrace them anew. In the remainder of his psalm, Asaph explores the stark contrast between the destinies of those distant from God and those drawn near to him.
Dismissed and Distant
Asaph now perceives, through God's eyes, the terrible end ahead for those who are "unfaithful to you" (v. 27). From God's point of view, those who have distanced themselves from him are not standing on solid ground but on a slippery surface. They are not strong and secure, but swept away and destroyed. They are not real and lasting, for God despises and dismisses such superficial, outward apparent successes like so many bad dreams that go poof in the real light of morning. Such a sobering eternal perspective should cause us to reevaluate an envious and angry spirit toward the unfaithful. Rather, in light of such an eternal perspective, how we should pity those who blindly and recklessly pursue such a path of emptiness, illusion, and destruction.
Asaph understands further the personal nature of such divine judgment, for he describes them as "those who are far from you" (v. 27). In the last analysis, judgment is God's personal rejection, his dismissal of someone as of no further consequence. Jesus concisely sums up what God says on that day in the appalling words: "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers" (Matt. 7:23). In "The Weight of Glory," a famous sermon of C. S. Lewis, he captures this horrific reality: "We can be left utterly and absolutely outside—repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored." What an appalling end, to be dismissed and distanced from God personally and irrevocably.
In retrospect, and in light of this terrible end, Asaph repents honestly of his earlier embittered attitude, recognizing it as mere animal-like instinct and ignorance of God's eternal perspectives (vv. 19–20). Grieving apart from entering again into God's sanctuary and embracing anew his true eternal perspectives about life would have short-circuited Asaph's rediscovery of hope.
Excerpted from Hope for the Brokenhearted by John Luke Terveen. Copyright © 2006 John Luke Terveen. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: The Last Hurdle ... and Hope (Rachel's Story),
Part One: Visions of Hope,
1. Will Faith Survive? (Psalm 73),
2. A Death Most Precious (Psalm 116),
3. Sorrows Unending, Hope Undying (Lamentations),
4. Voices of Comfort in the Desert (Isaiah 40),
Part Two: Gospel of Hope,
5. In Deepest Water and Darkest Night (Matthew 14:22–33),
6. When There Is No Sign of Life (John 11:1–44),
7. In the Face of Death (Matthew 26:36–46),
8. After the Disaster ... Opening Your Eyes Again (Luke 24:13–35),
Part Three: Letters of Hope,
9. Grieving as Those Who Have Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13—5:11),
10. In the Twinkling of an Eye (1 Corinthians 15),
11. Hope: A Matter of Life or Death (Philippians 1:12–26),
12. The Finish Line: Leaving a Legacy of Love and Hope (2 Timothy 4:6–8),
About the Author,