Christians and bereavement

'The hell-believing Christian carries an additional burden of uncertainty'

Grief is hard work for Christians as it is for everyone. The journey towards first accepting the reality of a loss is as variable in duration as it is for someone of another, or of no, religious faith.

Facing the reality that a loved-one is gone and not going to return is unavoidable. Pressing through beyond numb shock to feel the pain of loss is a task that is no respecter of religious belief.

Bereaved Christians share the common mourners’ tasks of adjusting to the loss of roles that the deceased had previously played in their life whilst also getting their head around what it means to be ‘me’ now that a significant other person has died.

Similarly, letting the dead person go and re-investing in life requires commitment and energy unique to every individual’s network of attachments and social circumstances.

In thinking about Christian grief we must begin with shared human experience. Only from there can there be exploration of the singular opportunities and challenges that face Christians who grieve.

Although it’s natural to jump to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as that which offers a well-spring of hope to transform a Christian’s grief, the Jesus who wept over the death of his friend Lazarus is perhaps a better starting point.

This endorses the pain of loss to an extent that can sometimes be lacking in Christians’ expectations of their own grief. You might think that belief in Christ’s victory over death and the promise of life beyond the finality of the grave would temper the pain of losing a loved-one. For many Christians this is vital and tangible comfort but can make it harder to engage in grief-work.

Geoff Walters did the Christian community a huge favour when he published his Why Do Christians Find it Hard to Grieve?. Walters had spotted that some Christians’ permission to grieve seemed to end at the funeral which was to be viewed more as a 'coronation'; a testimony to the wonders of everlasting life with God.

From my own days as a minister I could see just what Walters was describing when Evangelical Christians put pressure on themselves to minimise their feelings of loss because their loved-one had 'gone to be the Lord'. The immense comfort they derived from their faith in this promise of life forever through Christ was sadly tarnished a little because it was somehow felt inappropriate to talk of hope and grief in the same breath.

Despite the caricatures of Christians as rather too ready to define heaven, I most often found grieving believers healthily agnostic on the details, but firm in their conviction that God could be trusted with their loved one. Such consolation bore them through the long and arduous tasks of grief that could not be by-passed.

One context of grieving is, however, singularly problematic. Among Christians who believe in the possibility of everlasting loss, the fate of a loved one whose faith-stance is ambiguous (or who clearly rejects the Gospel) can generate considerable anxiety.

Such a Christian searches, often in vain, for signs that that this deceased loved one will certainly not be going to hell. Still believing that only God knows a person’s heart, the hell-believing Christian carries an additional burden of uncertainty, sometimes significant fear, that their loved one will not be raised to enjoy everlasting life or, worse, be raised to everlasting punishment.

There is a Christian form of grieving and it relies on the Jesus who wept being the Jesus who was resurrected.

Dr Eric Stoddart is Lecturer in Practical Theology and Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion & Politics at the University of St. Andrews

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.