The Rhythm of Faith in Grief

It has been eight months since my aunt passed away following a yearlong battle with cancer. It has been almost six months since my uncle, her husband, passed away unexpectedly after a sudden heart attack. They served the Lord faithfully and I can still hear the echoes of our prayers for healing. We pleaded and fasted and prayed to the Lord for a year to take away the cancer that had invaded her body, and the Lord did not heal her. We prayed desperately and earnestly on the way to the emergency room for the Lord to fix whatever was broken in his heart, and the Lord did not heal him.

I know what is true about this God who said no to our prayers. The truth of the Bible is stored up in my head, and my mind can trace the memories of God’s promises and character with ease. God is loving and good and compassionate. I say it over and over to myself, but the truth stays on the surface level of my mind without ever traveling the long way down into my heart and soul and bones. I know God is loving, but I do not believe that he has acted lovingly toward me. I know that God is good, but I cannot reconcile his goodness with what has happened in my life. I know that God is compassionate, but what he has allowed to happen does not feel compassionate to me.

These are difficult things to reconcile, and so I avoid them. My doubt feels shameful and wrong - how dare I doubt the character of God? And yet, is it truly doubt if I still know and trust what is true without believing it in my bones? The psalmist writes in Psalm 77,

“At night I remember my music;
I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders.
“Will the Lord reject forever
and never again show favor?
Has his faithful love ceased forever?
Is his promise at an end for all generations?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah” (vv 6-9)

The psalmist’s questions feel almost too personal to read, like I am eavesdropping on a conversation to which I was not invited. They are honest, painfully so, and when I read them I feel my chest opening up and my lungs filling with oxygen again. These are questions I am allowed to ask the Father without fear of his judgment or silence. These questions are an invitation to communion with God in a way in which it is not wrong to look at what has happened in my life and wonder how to reconcile the pain with what I know to be true of his character.

When I continue reading, the psalmist ends by reminding himself of the things he knows to be true of the Lord. He does not hurl questions and then sit in anger, refusing to acknowledge the ways in which the Lord has been good in the past. He remembers and he does so actively by reminding himself of the Lord’s faithfulness.

“I will remember the Lord’s works;
yes, I will remember your ancient wonders.
I will reflect on all you have done
and meditate on your actions.” (vv 11-12)

My God is loving and good and compassionate. These are things that I know, both from the experiences in my own life and the stories recorded in Scripture, and these are the things I will preach to my heart until I can believe them again. Claire Gibson writes in response to this psalm, “This is the rhythm of faith. Yell out, and then remember.” And so I will.

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