After my dad’s funeral service, we brought home many of the flowers that had been set up around the church, and my mom set a vase of white roses on the dresser in her bedroom. They bloomed brilliantly in the morning sunlight, and my mom, comforted by their beauty, prayed they would last the whole week. They lasted longer than that, still appearing fresh days after the other flowers had begun to wilt. When my mom told me about her prayer and how encouraged she was by its answer, I nodded my head and mumbled “that’s nice,” but had little else to say. I found myself unable to share in her gratitude. I struggled to recognize God’s kind and caring provision; instead, the story was upsetting to me. I couldn’t put my finger on why until I got back to my apartment that night and, alone with my thoughts, asked God the question I had been trying to ignore in the company of my family: “Why should I be glad that you preserved the life of those flowers when you let my dad die?”
With that, I was aware of the feeling that had been quietly brewing in my heart since my dad passed away—I was angry at God. I didn’t want to be angry; I knew I needed Him. But when I heard about my mom’s roses, my most pervasive thought was that God had answered the wrong prayer and ignored the one that actually mattered. Thinking back to when my dad was in the hospital—how I had prayed and pleaded with God to heal him; how I had trusted God and looked to Him for help; and how we had been hopeful, based on the hospital reports, that my dad would recover—I couldn’t shake the sense of betrayal I felt at my dad’s sudden death.
The God Who Does Not Change
As I struggled with anger, the truth I know about God was in conflict with my feelings. My knowledge of God’s sovereignty, once a source of comfort, now led me to question His goodness: How could I reconcile the fact that God had the power to heal my dad, and yet chose not to? Why would God allow my family to have hope, only to rip that hope out from under us? I still wrestle with questions like these, but something that has helped me is remembering God’s unchanging nature. Isaiah 40:8 says, “the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” This means that even when my circumstances change or my emotions waver, God’s character does not. The same God who was there to steady me when I was anxious is here to walk with me as I grieve.
Even though my initial response to tragedy was to feel betrayed, God never broke any promises. He did not promise that I wouldn’t face hardship and sorrow in this life, nor did He promise I would know the answers to why things happen a certain way. But he did promise to be near me when I’m brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and to strengthen and uphold me in times of trouble (Isaiah 41:10). He is still the sovereign Lord and a good and loving father, even when my perspective is clouded by difficult emotions.
The Pull Towards Sin
As hard as it is to admit, my anger sprang from the sin of unbelief. One of my favorite hymns is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” But in the wake of grief, I was bothered by that song and others like it, and for a while I avoided worship music altogether. I didn’t want to listen to lyrics praising God for His goodness and faithfulness because I didn’t want to believe He was good and faithful when I was feeling crushed by pain He could have prevented. I knew I was not operating under the correct understanding of God’s faithfulness, but it was easier to ignore the truth than to confront the tension between my faith and my feelings. The pull towards sin was strong because it promised relief: blaming God for my hardship and embracing my anger would eliminate the tension. There was a warped sense of comfort in the thought of directing my feelings this way.
But I know the heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and when I stray from God, it is my own sinful desires that draw me away (James 1:14). My longing to be comforted was not a bad desire, but the temptation to seek comfort in bitterness was threatening to pull me away from the only one who could truly comfort me.
The Savior Who Will Not Let Go
The wonderful truth about God’s faithfulness is that He remains faithful when I am unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13). God showed me His faithfulness by preventing me from straying too far from Him. As tempted as I was to indulge my feelings of anger and bitterness, I found that I couldn’t go all the way down that road. It felt like there was a roadblock in my way, something keeping me from pursuing those feelings any further. Deep down I knew the truth, and that truth is what anchored me when I felt I was drifting away. I know Jesus is holding on to me, and He will not let my foot be moved (Psalm 121:3).
Once I recognized the root of my feelings, I felt ashamed of the thoughts I had been entertaining and the things I had been accusing God of in my heart. Many of the tears I cried those nights were tears of shame over my sin. But I am encouraged when I remember that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). I am forgiven, and since I belong to Christ, nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8:38–39).
Faith That Will Not Fail
My faith has never felt so feeble as it did those first few weeks after losing my dad. But, when I was at my weakest, it was Christ’s strength that carried me. I understand more clearly now what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Recognizing how Christ held on to me when I couldn’t hold on myself both humbles me and renews my faith. God has worked through my weakness and used it to remind me of His goodness during a time when it can be difficult to see that He is good. Even in the midst of grief, I can praise Him for His faithfulness because I know His strength will never fail me.
Yet grief is complicated and exhausting, and sometimes thoughts of resentment towards God resurface, or I feel envious when I hear about good things happening in other people’s lives while all I can see in my own life is loss. It helps to be honest with God about such feelings when they come. I confess them to Him, knowing He will forgive me (1 John 1:9), and ask Him to help me fight them with the truth. I trust He will give me the strength to endure.
Finally, what has been a constant comfort, even through my struggles with anger and doubt, is knowing my dad is with Jesus. When I feel upset and heartbroken over the circumstances of my dad’s death—the discomfort and loneliness he must have felt during his last days in the hospital—I am relieved when I remember that none of that matters to him anymore. He is at peace, free from all sorrow and pain. Psalm 84 has been encouraging, as it reminds me to live my life on earth in anticipation of the joy of the courts of the Lord. I am grateful for the confidence I have that my dad is already enjoying the blessings of God’s presence, and though life is hard right now, I can look forward to the day when I, too, will be with the Lord, “for a day in [His] courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10).