July 2, 2012

The Hermeneutics of Grief, Part 1

Recently, in a discussion forum I frequent, a Russian Orthodox priest who recently lost his son to suicide made the following comment in a discussion about salvation.
I know ... I am a grieving father ... but maybe that grief provides a hermeneutical key by which to properly interpret Holy Scripture.
This got me to thinking about grief, and what our faith and practice could look like if we use grief as a hermeneutical tool.

Isaiah tell us that Christ is "a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief." His heart was broken at all of the lost souls, the starving beggars, the social outcasts, those despised for their diseases. He saw deeply into all of our pain, suffering, and grief, and was moved to do something about it.

"“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Taking up one's cross is a tremendous suffering and sorrow in the literal sense, so it stands to reason that we should be willing to look at it the same way in the figurative sense.

To use a hermeneutic of grief properly means to look at His teachings to us through the lens of His sorrows and grief, and not our own, lest we make discipleship merely a form of narcissism. His gaze was outward, looking at others, and what He came to do for them, not for Himself.

This lens of His grief brings us a new and deeper meaning to 1 Peter 4:13 (but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.)  and 2 Corinthians 1:5 (For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.) If we take this as His suffering and grief at seeing the pain endured by us here, rather than simply persecution and pain the we ourselves endure, our outlook on the world changes vastly. We experience more than our own feelings as we step into true empathy for our fellow man.

Christ's work at the cross was to defeat sin and death for us all. But if we look at His carrying of the cross as more than the literal footsteps on the road to Golgotha, and consider Him to have been carrying the cross in a figurative manner as He instructed the disciples, it becomes easy to imagine what was His suffering during that time: the sight of us in our wretched human suffering.

Like my friend Father Alvin, I think we could all benefit from studying His Word with a hermeneutic of grief, His grief at the condition of those He saw, and not just of what was inflicted upon Him.

No comments:

Post a Comment