(In this article there will be reference to God. But that Name is meant to include whatever you call the Supreme Being. The pronoun ‘he’ is used for simplicity, not to denote gender.)
Somewhere in the shock of trauma and death, there is a time when a person will focus on God. Whether we are in frequent communication, or seldom mention his name except in vain, we turn to God now. We cannot fathom the reality of what has just happened. We know that God can change it, and we’ll offer anything – anything! – in barter for this one favor.
One woman promised to stop smoking if God would spare the life of a relative severely injured in an accident. Every time things weren’t going well, someone called her and asked if she was sneaking cigarettes! In our helplessness, this is the power of what Psychology calls ‘Magical Thinking’. We assume that our offering was so coveted by God that he would cease functioning as God and accept our terms.
In time, reality comes crashing in. We know this isn’t how God works, but we’re vehemently angry anyway. Why wouldn’t the all-powerful Being do this one little (for him!) thing? Why would he let me down? Why would God let this horrible thing happen? Why would he let this wonderful person suffer? Where was he when this happened? And WHERE the heck is God now? When we need him the most, we find no love, no comfort. We see no logic. Our faith is shaken. We feel abandoned, forgotten, unloved and uncared for.
This hostility is expressed in many ways. We might act it out, being very rude and bitter towards others. Risky or violent behavior may be evident as we try to release the frustration. We might withdraw, becoming silent and uncommunicative. There might be total commitment to bringing our version of justice to the perpetrator. In what feels like rejection, we totally reject God.
This is a natural part of the grief process. It’s extremely important, even healthy, to express this animosity. It is not heresy. In any religion’s holy book, there are examples of humans railing against the Supreme Being. God can take it. Bring it on.
We often hear the term ‘crisis of faith’. It is used lightly to describe times when we question God and our beliefs. This skepticism is actually part of the growth process toward a deeper faith. A true crisis is traumatic and devastating. Things that have been the foundation of our being no longer make sense. Maybe it was all one big mistake? Have I been gullible and misled all this time? If I wasn’t hearing God then, who or what was I following? It can be a shattering experience by itself. Add it to grief, and a person can get lost.
An ironic aspect of this is that at the same time we are rejecting God, we can feel guilty about doing so. Remember that logic is not a large part of grieving.
This is an excellent time to seek out an ordained person, such as the chaplain or a leader of a congregation, for a short chat. Talking out these feelings is the best way to recovery. Keeping them hidden, or expressing them inappropriately, can have very serious consequences to your emotional and physical health.
What a clergy person will tell you is that your feelings are okay. Christians have the example of Christ himself feeling the same way on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forgotten ME?”
You will be reminded that God is with you now, has always been, and has been with your loved one. We have examples in sacred texts of God showing sadness and grief over what happens to his beloved human children. We are made in God’s image. If we can be sad, so can God. If we cry, so does God. At the Crucifixion, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two. This is the classic Hebrew symbol of grief. Some Jews today will pin a torn piece of cloth to their clothing, over their hearts, to show mourning. Know that in your desperation, God had his arms around you and feels your pain.
Why couldn’t you hear him? With all the noise going on in your head, who could hear anything? We have to ‘be still and know’ God’s very real presence. A radio can’t receive a signal until it stops broadcasting.
And you will be reminded of God’s never changing love for you. Just like the Prodigal Father, God welcomes you back from despair with open arms. His grace and forgiveness are abundant, as yours should then be to others.
You’ll be reminded that life happens, but that God turns all things to the good, though we may never see it happen. And that’s okay, too. Let go and let God.
Ask for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.