The Necessity of Grief

Dictionary.com defines the English word ‘necessary’ as: being essential, indispensable, or requisite. It is necessary for me to continue breathing oxygen if I am to stay alive. It is necessary that cars stop at red lights in order to prevent accidents. It is necessary to pay $2.00 for a drink priced at $2.00. And so forth.

An entirely striking example of ‘necessity’ is found at 1 Peter 1:6. In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the verse reads:

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”

Did you catch that?

If necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.

If as an essential, you have been grieved by various trials.

If as a requisite, you have been grieved by various trials.

Rocks and concrete are both incapable of finding anything necessary. You have to be alive (not to mention intelligent) to determine that something is necessary. So a living agent is implied in 1 Peter 1:6—a living agent who determines the necessity of “grief by various trials.” That living agent is God, and we are the ones upon whom God necessitates grief over a variety of trials.

Why would God determine it necessary to have us grieve over various trials? Isn’t grief (or ‘heaviness’ as the King James Version renders it) something to be avoided at all costs? How could grief ever be necessary or indispensable or requisite in our lives? And further, what do we do with the earlier part of 1 Peter 1:6, which talks about ‘rejoicing’?  How can ‘rejoicing’ and ‘grieving’ be juxtaposed in so short a span? Aren’t these mutually exclusive categories?

Earlier today I read a wise and pastoral sermon on 1 Peter 1:6 written almost two hundred years ago by Charles Spurgeon. In the sermon, Spurgeon gives four main reasons for the necessity of grief during times of trial.  Summarized, they are as follows:

  • Grief during times of trial is necessary because in all things we must be like our Head.

Here Spurgeon points to Mark 14:33-34 (cf. Matthew 26:37-38), where in his final hour, Jesus was “sorrowful and troubled,” saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Spurgeon remarks:

[Jesus] had to bear the burden, not with his shoulders omnipotent, but with shoulders that were bending to the earth beneath a load. And you and I must not always expect a giant faith that can remove mountains: sometimes even to us the grasshopper must be a burden, that we may in all things be like unto our head.

  • Grief during times of trial is necessary because it keeps us humble before God.

During times of buoyancy and light-hearted happiness, it is all too easy to forget God. Spurgeon writes:

Lest we should be satisfied from ourselves, and forget that all our own springs must be in him, the Lord sometimes seems to sap the springs of life, to drain the heart of all its spirits, and to leave us without soul or strength for mirth, so that the noise of tabret and viol would be unto us as but the funeral dirge, without joy or gladness. Then it is that we discover what we are made of, and out of the depths we cry unto God, humbled by our adversities.”

  • Grief during times of trial is necessary because only through such difficulty do we learn uniquely valuable lessons.

Have you ever noticed how the tops of the Canadian Rockies are mostly barren rock, while the valleys below are where the bulk of the trees stand? We love our mountaintop experiences, but is the valleys of life where the most abundant growth can (and often does) occur.

  • Grief during times of trial is necessary because it makes us uniquely competent in the counsel of others.

Spurgeon puts this so beautifully:

There are none so tender as those who have been skinned themselves. Those who have been in the chamber of affliction know how to comfort those who are there. Do not believe that any man will become a physician unless he walks the hospitals; and I am sure that no one will become a divine, or become a comforter, unless he lies in the hospital as well as walks through it, and has to suffer himself. God can not make ministers—and I speak with reverence of his holy Name—he can not make a Barnabas except in the fire. It is there, and there alone, that he can make his sons of consolation; he may make his sons of thunder anywhere; but his sons of consolation he must make in the fire, and there alone. Who shall speak to those whose hearts are broken, who shall bind up their wounds, but those whose hearts have been broken also, and whose wounds have long run with the sore of grief?

Last, what about that seemingly odd juxtaposition of “rejoicing” and “grieving” in 1 Peter 1:6? Is it possible to rejoice even as one grieves?  Always colorful in his imagery and profound in expression, Spurgeon writes,

Mariners tell us that there are some parts of the sea where there is a strong current upon the surface going one way, but that down in the depths there is a strong current running the other way. Two seas do not meet and interfere with one another; but one stream of water on the surface is running in one directions, and another below is an opposite direction. Now, the Christian is like that. On the surface there is a stream of heaviness rolling with dark waves; but down in the depths there is a strong under-current of great rejoicing that is always flowing there.

Grieving and rejoicing can co-exist.

So where are you at today? Are you living under the divine necessity of grief? If so, take heart. Your grief is not reason-less, and the reasons for it have been dictated by a good and wise God.

Grace and Peace,

Brent

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