Grief exhausts my heart, even when it’s not my own. Does this ever happen to you?
The other day I was reading Ezekiel 24. In this chapter, God asked something unimaginable of the prophet and priest Ezekiel. No, wait. He didn’t ask. He commanded.
Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a fatal blow. But you must not lament or weep or let your tears flow.” (Ezekiel 24:15–16)
God was going to take away Ezekiel’s wife—the delight of his eyes. I can hardly write these words. If you’ve lost a loved one, you can hardly read them. As if her sudden death wouldn’t be agony enough, God also told Ezekiel he could only mourn “quietly.”
Everyone in Jerusalem would have expected Ezekiel to mourn his wife’s death in the traditional ways. To walk barefooted and exchange his priestly turban for sackcloth and a veil to cover his face. To sit on the ground and sprinkle his head with dust and ashes. And to wail. Kind neighbors would be expected to comfort him with food.
But God told Ezekiel no. Don’t do any of this.
“Groan quietly; do not observe mourning rites for the dead. Put on your turban [a garment designed for glory and beauty, not death] and strap your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache or eat the bread of mourners.” (Ezekiel 24:17)
To break from traditional mourning wasn’t just strange. It was shocking, especially for a priest.
God Doesn’t Delight in Causing Grief
The problem wasn’t Ezekiel’s wife. She represented the delight of Israel’s eyes—God’s temple. They’d made it an idol. A good luck charm. God stopped being their greatest desire, which flung open the doors to every sort of evil. God moved in extreme ways because their situation was dire. And so, Ezekiel suffered, but only to the extent absolutely necessary to accomplish God’s good purposes for His glory, His people, and His prophet.
God doesn’t delight in causing grief. He’s a faithful and loving Father in every way and in every moment.
Even if he causes suffering,
he will show compassion
according to the abundance of his faithful love.
For he does not enjoy bringing affliction
or suffering on mankind. (Lamentations 3:32–33)
But I didn’t know all this the first time I read Ezekiel 24.
Back then, I shook my head in disgust. I’m pretty sure my nostrils flared. Outrage darkened my heart so that I couldn’t see God’s goodness or wisdom in His command to Ezekiel. The only thing going through my mind then was, Lord, You asked too much of Your servant.
That’s what I wanted to say.
But what did Ezekiel say? And do?
I spoke to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening. The next morning I did just as I was commanded. (Ezekiel 24:18)
Think about this for a minute: Ezekiel did just what God had commanded.
What did Ezekiel know about God that enabled him to obey such a hard command without complaint?
To lose his love because of others’ sins could have embittered Ezekiel toward them and toward God. Instead, he fixed his eyes on the Lord and on truth.
I don’t know which of God’s truths Ezekiel specifically clung to, but the following six have strengthened and comforted me in my times of deep grief. May they comfort you.
Six Comforting Truths When Grief Overwhelms
1. God’s grace runs deeper than our grief.
The more God requires, the more grace He gives.
The apostle Paul learned this truth when he asked God to relieve his suffering, and God told him no. Three times. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
God pours out His grace as we trust in Him. His well never runs dry. His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22–24).
Though our sorrows run deep, God’s grace runs deeper.
2. God’s unchanging character strengthens our hearts.
Israel needed to remember what Ezekiel knew. (We do too.) He knew the truth that, while God’s ways vary according to the situation and His purposes, His character never does. He knew that wherever God leads us, He always sustains us. Whatever He commands us to do, He always empowers us to obey. Whenever tears of sorrow blur our sight, our tender Lord always guides our steps.
The more we come to know and believe in the flawlessness of God’s unchangeable character, the less our hearts falter, no matter what God calls us to face. The unchanging character of our God changes and strengthens us. “[Our] flesh and [our] heart may fail, but God is the strength of [our] heart, our portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Like He was for Ezekiel.
Though sorrow brings us to our knees, God’s unchanging character strengthens our hearts.
3. God’s ways work for our good.
When God leads us through the valley of distress, it’s hard to imagine any good will come of our torment. But nothing can change the truth, not even our doubts. God always works for the good of His children. Always.
God never works willy-nilly. (This is the not-so-technical term for saying God is intentional in all His ways.) God only brings us grief when absolutely necessary. And it was necessary for Ezekiel. We know because God would not have taken his wife otherwise.
God knows what it takes to accomplish His good purposes—to make us understand that He is the Lord, and to bring salvation to the most stubborn of people. He will do what it takes to accomplish His good will for us, even if it requires the death of a beloved. Like His Son.
Though the grief God brings seems too much to bear, God’s ways always work for our good.
4. God’s steadfast love revives our hearts.
The Bible doesn’t record Ezekiel’s inner thoughts or the road through his grief, but Scripture shows us the prophet Habakkuk’s. Like Ezekiel, Habakkuk obeyed God, even in gut-wrenching circumstances. Unlike Ezekiel, however, Habakkuk complained when God divulged His plans to His prophet.
Habakkuk anguished over God’s judgment and Jerusalem’s impending destruction. But then God reminded Habakkuk of the vast displays of the depth and faithfulness of His love in the past and revived Habakkuk’s sorrow-filled heart with hope for the future (Hab. 3:17–18).
Though sorrow pierces our souls today, God’s steadfast love revives our hearts with hope for the future.
5. God’s commands guide and protect us.
When grief overwhelms me, I can barely choose my socks in the morning much less know how to make it through the day. Scathing words can fly out of my mouth before I realize I’ve hurt those I love most.
God didn’t leave Ezekiel alone to choose his steps. God directed Ezekiel’s every word and deed. He directs us as well by His Word—by every word in the Bible.
Grief can make even the simplest commands seem too hard. But God’s commands aren’t burdensome (1 John 5:3–4). They lead us in the steps we should take. And they never fail. They protect us from reacting out of despair or anger. They guard us from making choices that would cripple us even more.
When we follow God’s commands, we never have to wonder if we’re doing the right thing—the thing that will eventually lead us to peace and, yes, even joy.
Though grief can blind and tempt us to despair, God’s commands guide and protect us.
6. God’s promises transform our mourning into joy and gladness.
God never promised to spare us from all suffering, but He did promise us peace. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Even in his sorrow, Ezekiel obeyed God and donned garments of praise instead of sackcloth and ashes. His obedience proclaimed God’s glory and faithfulness to His promises. At the appointed time, God would restore joy and gladness into the hearts of His people—and into His prophet. Thanksgiving would once again be their song.
For the LORD will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and he will make her wilderness like Eden,
and her desert like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and melodious song. (Isaiah 51:3)
Though suffering torments our souls, God’s promises transform our mourning into joy and gladness.
God demanded much of Ezekiel. More than I hope He ever demands of me. Or of you. But when grief comes, as it comes into every life and heart, may we remember these six comforting truths. May we trust and obey the Lord like Ezekiel and find our mourning transformed into joy and gladness. Christ, our good and loving Lord, will be our guide. He will hold us fast.
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