I performed a memorial service today. In over sixteen years of doing college ministry, I officiated only three services like this. Since becoming a local church pastor twelve months ago, I’ve already sat with three families, trying to walk with them in this dark valley of grief. My fellow pastors here have walked with even more.
Today at the service, I read passages that spoke of grieving with hope (1 Thessalonians), believing in life even when someone dies (John 11), and that one day God will prepare a feast (Jerrad, the man who died, performed art with his cooking. He made meals at our church for years.). That same passage that talked about a feast of fine food also said that death will be no more, and He will wipe away every tear (Isaiah 25:6-8). There is a sense in times like this that we feel deep sadness and despair, but have another feeling, seemingly just out of reach, but still there. We might call that hope, trust, or faith. It’s just on the other side. And we should be careful not to think that the goal is to get to that other side, but rather acknowledge that despair and hope are like two sides of a coin.
Over the next few months, we’re going to look at the Psalms. We’re going to look at these deep emotions we find there: despair, loneliness, anger at injustice, doubt. Ironically, the Psalms are where I first met God. Someone handed me a Bible outside of my middle school, when I was 12. I never opened it until a dark and depressing season when I was 16. When I began to look at this Bible’s table of contents, it said “Where to Find Help.” And it directed me to the Psalms. A strange place, you might think, to first encounter God. Psalms that cried out, “Where are you?” (Psalm 10, The Message). Psalms that cried out, “Have you forgotten to be merciful?” (Psalm 77) Those passages intrigued me, because they sounded like real life. And God was speaking into those painful questions. I was interested in the people who would ask God questions like this, and still write, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 77:11)
I hope that over these weeks of studying the Psalms, that a few things will happen. First, that we can quit pretending that as followers of Jesus that we’re not supposed to feel things like despair, loneliness, doubt, or anger. And, that we stop telling our friends when they are going through it that they’re not supposed to feel those things either. Finally, that even though we walk through dark valleys, we see exactly how close things like hope, faith, trust, mercy, and healing are.