An important message sometimes needs multiple confirmations. This word began as I was listening to angry undertones from some Indigenous Christians on Sunday about the way their ancestors had been treated by whites. As I prayed into what was going on spiritually I recalled that psychologically anger is a secondary emotion, some other emotion e.g. injustice, triggers off our anger. In this case I sensed that underlying the anger were generations of grief. Over the next two days I encountered several situations involving multi-generational violence and addiction. Abuse seemed handed down from grandfather to father to son and I believe that the power of cross-generational sin lies in a deep sense of loss about the inadequacy of fathering (cf. Ex 20:5). This sense operates on many levels. From its origins Australia has been an unfathered nation wallowing in grief. The first Europeans were convicts and soldiers unwillingly taken away from the mothers and fathers of their homelands. Not surprising then that the destruction of aboriginal culture which followed “settlement” stripped Indigenous fathers of their dignity in passing down the secrets of hunting and tribal lore. Today governments in our nation are struggling to remedy the anger which leads to domestic violence, but behind anger is grief. Where grief is healed the destructive effects of anger will subside; this article is about how the Church can be a catalyst for such healing across our land.
The Coming of Grief
Proverbs states profoundly, “the glory of children is their fathers.” (17:6). Since Adam is our “first father who sinned” through whom we all “lost the glory of God” we all suffer an inborn grief of being incompletely fathered (Isa 43:27; Rom 3:23; 5:12). Intermingled with such original grief is a deep sense of basic shame. Given this terrible fallen dynamic it is “normal” for a child abused in any way to take on a burden of guilt. From the other side, when a father discovers he has not been able to protect his child he spontaneously feels grief, guilt and anger. All these painful emotions profoundly communicate to children, who will grow to be fathers and mothers, that the world is an unsafe violated realm. Through such powers an inner conviction rolls down the generations of a fundamental deficiency of fathering in this world. In such deep trauma it is “natural” to strike out angrily at the world at others and at God. I have seen such rage rise to the surface from the most timid and repressed people over the injustices and losses of life. How I felt hatred towards my own father when I was honestly able to face his failures. Praise God however, he always has a word for the situation. In prayer recently he led us to his healing promise, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me…to comfort all who mourn,3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isa 61:1-3). Jesus quoted this passage about himself at the start of his ministry of liberation (Luke 4:18-21). Today the Lord has a strategy to release his power through the Church bringing healing from grief to our land. First however we must face some unpleasant facts.
For some time I have been sensing the need for corporate repentance involving Christian leaders, but much sharper clarity came in a prayer meeting on Wednesday. One of the women present was deeply distressed by the TV images of Cardinal Pell being questioned at the Royal Commission Into Child Sexual Abuse; “He should have been weeping” she said. Unbeknown to any of us a cartoon had already appeared in TheWest Australian portraying Pell stony faced at the testimony of a victim of paedophile priests but then showing him weeping when speaking of his own poor health (1/2/16 p.18). Then someone else present at our prayers quoted the scripture, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15) and went on to say that the situation in society and Church is truly lamentable; but few are doing this personally or corporately. The revelation which can trigger widescale community lament amongst the people of God is found in the cross.
The End of Grief
God’s grief at the wickedness of humanity was so great, “it grieved him to his heart”, that in wrath he sent the Flood (Gen 6:6-7). Unlike us however “the Lord will not
cast off for ever,32 though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not afflict or grieve the children of men from the heart.” (Lam 3:31-33). God does not enjoy being angry (Isa 28:21; Ezek 33:11)! Our sorrow is self-centred but God grieves at the loss of a relationship; he loves to impart his glory and when we miss out on it he sorrows. Since no human being truly understood these things the Lord himself became human to stand in the gap on our behalf (Ezek 22:30; 1 Tim 2:5). Jesus “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”; on the cross he bore the grief which our sin under God’s wrath has brought upon the divine-human relationship (Isa 53:4). The cry “My God….why have you forsaken me?”” reveals Christ is bearing unlimited grief in being cut off by sin and wrath from God’s glorious fathering (Mark 15:34; 1 Pet 2:24). Grief however was not the end because the resurrection reveals the all-sufficiency of his Father. Being “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” Jesus now overflows with limitless joy (Rom 6:4). His sorrow has been turned into the joy of being fully fathered (Heb 1:9; 12:2). Following the course of his own life Jesus communicates to the Church the fullness of Fatherhood by leading us through God-given grief into resurrection joy. As we grieve together in power of the cross we will rise together in power of resurrection. Now no human being needs to ever experience unrelenting “grief upon grief” (Jer 45:3).
Fathers of Grief
The grief which gnaws at every human heart at the absence of a complete father cannot be healed by sex, drugs, culture, work, marriage, family, ministry….or any other thing. Following the shape of the life of Christ the healing of the Church for the nation can only come when we experience a “godly grief that leads to life without regret” (2 Cor 7:10). This is not to be limited to an individual experience. As a mature spiritual father Paul unashamedly declared “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart….for the sake of my brothers” (Rom 9:1-3 cf. Luke 19:41-44). What we desperately need today for the healing of our land is mature fathers/mothers who are leaders in corporate lamentation. Intriguingly, the man who best modelled for me what it means to grieve over the loss of the glory a relationship between peoples was the Indigenous pastor Ronnie Williams. Here was a rare man from whom all fleshly anger seemed to have been stripped. If Christ could do that for Ronnie who was, humanly speaking, a fatherless man, he can do that in us. Let us pray that the Spirit of God will raise up men and women of maturity who are able to lead us in lamenting together the abuse of children, broken marriages, shattered families, alienated races and churches etc; when this happens the resurrection life we have all been seeking shall sweep upon us.