Grieving Without Giving Up

Psalm 85 was likely composed and
used in worship after the Israelites
came home from their captivity in
Babylon. In other words, it is a psalm of
people well acquainted with death. These
former captives tasted death. They lived
death. Now, they are now seeking some
answers.

I understand what they were feeling.
I am still grated by death’s grasp as
my wife and I grieve the loss of another
pregnancy. This is the second one–and
the second time on a Good Friday. Wasn’t
there already enough death on that day?

Yet verses 10-13 of this psalm depict
a wonderful scene of hope. In a way, this
is God’s response to the Israelites’ questions
and our pain. Translated slightly
differently, the psalmist writes, “Kindness
and truth shall meet. Justice and
peace shall kiss each other. Truth shall
spring out of the earth and justice shall
look down from the sky.”

No doubt we as the church must do a
better job of taking death and pain seriously,
as well as wrapping our arms and
lives around those who face such loss.
Yet we can only do this when our eyes,
hearts, and hands have been fully engaged
in the sorts of visions of hope that
Psalm 85 boldly proclaims.

I, for one, hunger for this vision. I
long for it with every fiber of my being: an end to wars and hate-mongering; an end
to poverty and powerlessness; an end to
fears and tears; an end to flimsy commitments
and empty gospels; an end to
petty rifts that keep us majoring in the
minors; an end to pregnancy losses and
other senseless tragedies.

The psalmist’s vision motivates my
living in the jaws of death. It is what
helps us as Christ’s body as we take two
steps forward into this world when those
valleys of darkness seem so immeasurably
deep. God was telling those worn
and weathered Israelites not to abandon
hope, not to give up, not to throw in the
towel of faith. The psalmist’s vision was
another message declaring to the cosmos
that God wasn’t yet done restoring the
beauty of life. Not by a long shot.

I share this hope even as my soul is
still truly grieved. No, my tears aren’t
wiped away just yet, nor will our pregnancy
losses ever be simply expunged
from the longings of our hearts. Easter
isn’t about shallow transformation, but
rather the willingness of God to get into
the trenches of our lives to fulfill the vision
of full and final restoration. It is this
vision, beautifully articulated in Psalm 85,
which allows us to lean into our future
hope without diminishing current experiences
of pain, loss, doubt, and despair.
A God who touched the realities of the
cross certainly knows how to grieve without
ever giving up.

Karsten T. Voskuil is the pastor of Trinity Reformed
Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.