I have been writing reflections on dementia for a few months now. This is because I was trying to work through my Mum’s experience of dementia and I think things through theologically. There will probably be more thoughts on dementia in the future, but today I am considering grief. My mum does not have dementia any more since she passed into the presence of Jesus on 25th August. Her frailty and confusion is a thing of the past for her and for this I am very thankful. Every day I thank God for his grace and for the resurrection of the dead. It is the Christian hope.
The day before Mum died, I recorded this in my dementia reflection journal: “This morning the Spirit seemed to be saying to me that God is grieved by the brokenness of the world and of human beings. God is grieving with me about my Mum’s mental state, her dementia and mental illness issues. He is not absent in my pain.” I want to explain this a little.
God is grieved over sin (Gen 6:6; Eph 4:30). This is our doing. Adam and Eve were made to live in obedience and in fellowship with God and yet they failed to believe God’s word. Their disobedience caused death to enter the world. You are I are not innocent of this either. We all act in this way and fail to believe God’s word and do not trust him. This grieves God. There is nothing surprising about the fact that sin grieves God.
But what I found surprising is the idea that God is not just grieved by our sinfulness but that he is grieved by the consequences of our sin. In the life of Jesus we see God acting to undo the consequences of sin. Jesus healed the sick, the chronically ill, people with disabilities, and cast out demons. He cleansed the lepers. (Yes I am attributing all of these things to the presence of sin in the world, although not necessarily to the individual in question). These things – sickness, disease, disability, demon-possession – are part of a world that is broken by sin. They are foretastes of the death that awaits us all.
Jesus was also grieved over death itself. He raised a widow’s son from the dead in the middle of the funeral (Luke 7:12-15). At the grave of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) and yet he cried at the graveside of his friend. Even God is grieved over death. Death grieves God so much that he has deliberately and purposefully done something about death.
Jesus is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). Even more importantly, Jesus did not just grieve over death as if there was nothing to be done about it; he bore the consequences of our actions in order to overcome death. It is not that we do not deserve to die or to live with the consequences of our own sin. But the grace of God is beyond comprehension. Even during his life, Jesus shared the consequences of human sin. His life began with the threat of death and homelessness (Matt 2:13). When he healed the leper who was outcast from society, Jesus was forced to stay outside the town in lonely places (Mark 1:40-45). People from his home town tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-29).
But the most powerful act of solidarity with our grief was the cross. The Son of God offered himself up to die for my sake (Gal 2:20) and God gave up his only Son for us (Rom 8:32). While the Son was suffering all the pain of broken, sinful humanity as he was dying on the cross, the Father’s heart would have been grieved beyond imagining. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann resonates with me when he writes about the cross in his book The Crucified God, “The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son.” Oh what grief the Father must have experienced giving up his Son for our sakes. His pain, although not physical like that of Jesus, must have been intense. This is the result of our sin and yet God has taken the consequences of our sin upon himself.
Even now, the Holy Spirit groans with the creation, waiting for the undoing of death, the resurrection of the dead (Rom 8:22-23, 26). In his groans, the Spirit communicates our grief to God. Since God has shared in our grief over death, this communication of the Holy Spirit is truly understood by Father and Son.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit share our grief. They bear it. Sinful humanity caused the horror of death and the grief that accompanies this. But because of grace, because of love, God undid the consequences of our own actions by taking the consequences upon himself. For this reason, grief for Christians is accompanied by expectation. We await the day when death, the final enemy, will be destroyed (1 Cor 15:26). On that day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4 NIV).
 Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1974), 243.