3 Myths about Mourning
I share the following in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara killings and the loss of George Chen, a former member of our church. Here are a couple misconceptions that the enemy uses to distance us from God, each other, and ourselves.
Myth #1: Mourning is emotion-driven
2 Samuel 1:11-12 Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
David should celebrate Saul's death but he weeps instead. 2 Samuel 1 depicts David's response to the deaths of both Saul, the king of Israel, and his son and David's best friend, Jonathan. Since Saul has attempted on various occasions to take David's life, including slaughtering an entire village, David has no reason to mourn and every reason to celebrate Saul's death. If you think about David’s predicament over the last couple years and the last 10 chapters, or 1/3 of the book of 1 Samuel. He is being chased by Saul. He’s had spears thrown at him, Saul has killed an entire village looking for David, and pursued in the hills and the deserts with 1000 of Israel’s elite soldiers. If you were in David’s shoes, and you heard that Saul was dead. You would celebrate. You would be so incredibly excited and relieved. The man who wants to kill you is dead.
Mourning is emotional. Grief is emotional. It is not a sign of weakness. In Chinese culture, public expressions of grief like crying are frowned upon. You’re supposed to stop doing that. I’ve heard Chinese parents comment “Oh the woman at the funeral didn’t cry for her husband who passed away. She was strong” That’s not the biblical way grief is expressed. It is always emotional and emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. Sometimes I I wonder if we understand what grief is about. I certainly don’t understand grief and loss but I do know it’s good to cry. David is a real man and real men weep.
But what if you don’t feel sad? What if you don’t, as David and his men, weep? Can you still mourn? It’s easy to get angry at yourself, to face at certain condemnation when it comes to grief because you’re not sad like everyone else. You don’t tear up like everyone else. But obsessing over our emotional response is not the point of mourning.
Mourning expresses loss from God’s perspective. We tend to only be sad when someone we know personally dies. I don’t know that David spent that much time with Saul but he deeply understood Saul’s importance to the nation of Israel. He understands how precious the title is. He also lost his best friend. He understands the impact on the community.
David's men likely hated Saul but grieved in solidarity with David. I wonder what it was like for David’s men to see David’s pain at losing Saul and Jonathan. I’d be willing to bet you that many of those men hated Saul, especially Abishai, who was perfectly happy to drive a spear through Saul’s head while he was sleeping (1 Samuel 26). Anyone who wanted to kill David, his lord, was an enemy. But I bet you Abishai grieved like everyone else. I don’t think he was necessarily sad but I think he grieved because he felt David’s pain.
The king mourns when any of his people perish. Jesus understands the loss of every person. Luke 15 contains three parables that demonstrate the heart of the king towards his people – the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son – each loss tears at the heart of the king. You mourn not because you’re emotional, you mourn because you love people and the loss of even one person pains you.
Mourning is perspective-driven – to express grief over loss. In grieving George Chen, you don’t have to feel sad about them. I can understand if you don’t because you may not have known him at all. I do because I think about his mom Kelly and I remember how she brought George to our church so that he could make friends and she was so intent on doing all these different things for him. And I can only imagine how much pain she’s in at losing him. It pains me to think about that.
David understood how much Saul meant for Israel. He’s also mourning the loss of his best friend, Saul’s son, Jonathan. David doesn’t just think about the death of Saul from his own perspective, he thinks about it from God’s perspective, from the perspective of Israel. That’s one way to think about George Chen. He was Chinese American, he came to our church, he lived in Almaden, we lost one of our own. You don’t have to be sad but it’s important to recognize the impact of this loss to our community.
Myth #2: Mourning should end quickly
2 Samuel 1:17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):
We should move on: Our culture today has a very short attention span. We move on to something new in a matter of seconds, much less minutes or even days or hours. We get tired of certain things and probably what our culture tires of most quickly is sadness. No one wants to be sad for a long time. When Zuckerberg invented Facebook, he was very perceptive – he wanted the social media platform to be relentlessly positive so he made sure his design excluded the “dislike” button. Youtube has thumbs up and thumbs down. Facebook doesn’t. Our culture wants us to go back to taking selfies, playing Mario Kart, and watching X-Men – don’t think about what makes you sad, just keep doing something else.
But David never wants to move on: David writes a song and he teaches all the men of Judah, his tribe to sing it. When you teach a tribe a song about a person, you are memorializing that person forever. You are saying this person is so important that I want everyone to know about it, I want to be passed down from generation to generation. Whenever you sing it, you will think of this person or in this case, both people.
Mourning is private, personal, and inward: Mourning is indeed public and a matter of the community. This song is presented to all of Israel; it’s not just David that mourned Saul but all of his men. But David is the one who wrote this song. David is the one who wrote the Psalms. I highly doubt it was a team effort. If you want to remember someone and what they meant to; write it down. Write a poem for that person. Yesterday I wrote some thoughts I had about George and it felt so good – the writing itself ministered to me. It was like God was speaking through what I wrote.
2 Samuel 1:22-27 "From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied. Saul and Jonathan-- in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold. "How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!"
David memorializes God’s perspective of Saul and Jonathan: He ignores the bad stuff. That stuff will be recorded but this is meant to honor both Saul and his best friend. They are united in life and death. And he will not think of his best friend without thinking about his dad and the man who wanted to kill him. He celebrates what Saul meant to Israel. Jonathan’s love was better than the love of any woman.
David valued God’s anointing of Saul that it over-rides his personal feelings about Saul, and the personal evil. This is how he describes them: Love and gracious, swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
Mourning memorializes God’s gift of a person: You can mourn by recording your thoughts about a person and sharing it with others. Read it aloud, sing it, make it happen face-to-face. We continue to live after we mourn but grief is unpredictable. Sometimes the loss isn't felt until much later.
I remember the memorial service of an infant son of two good friends. The father said "LORD, thank you for the gift of seven weeks of my son. I look forward to seeing him again in heaven." Wow. He and his wife will never forget the gift despite the tragedy of the loss.
Myth #3: Mourning is preventable
David does not question God's character in this tragedy. The text does not indicate that David questioned God after Saul and Jonathan's death. The scripture not record that he asked God “Why do you allow this kind of suffering? How could you allow this tragedy to happen to Jonathan, who was an amazing person and did not deserve to die?”
The war is real. The reason he didn’t ask is because the nation of Israel was at war. Israel had been at war with Philistines and other nations like the Amalekites since before he was born. David was born into a time of war. When there’s war, people die. This is not a news flash for David. It says in v12: “because they had fallen by the sword.” That means they died in battle. Battle is nothing new for David. Battle isn’t new for us either.
The problem is we read about tragedies on-line. But it all feels like a far away world and we become numb to the ravages of war. So Nigerian Muslims kidnap a bunch of girls. So a train crash in India kills 70 people. That’s not where I live. We’re completely here and now so it doesn’t affect us. But this tragedy hits close to home because 1) the nature of his death was horrific and 2) George came to our church. We have an association with him. We went to Leland High School. He lived down the street from Tammy. He was just like many of us. The child of immigrant parents. And when these kinds of things happen, we wonder how could this happen?
Did you think we live in Disneyland?
Did you think Silicon Valley is the happiest place on earth?
Getting us to ignore the war, minimize it or pretend we can stop it is precisely Satan’s ploy. If he can just get you to think wherever you live, in your little life, everyone is happy, people are good, and bad things only happen to bad people far away, then when something tragic happens, your faith is torn apart because you thought God guaranteed you a world of peace. God, after all didn’t promise you this world is Disneyland? We think mourning shouldn’t be necessary because we’re supposed to live in a peaceful world. Think again.
Recognize who the enemy is. I’ve bought into this lie. Sometimes I come to church and I think I get to play church today, give a nice little message, go home, take a nap and play with my kids. But events like this, wake me up. If we lived in Disneyland, I never would have become a pastor. I had a job that paid twice as much with half the stress of what I do now. I did it because we live in a war zone. And I’ve been called to fight.
People's souls are at sake.
Don’t believe me?
Have you read what Elliot Rodger wrote?
You can say he was crazy and there’s certainly mental instability in what he wrote, but I was talking to friends and many of us agreed that we could have been him. I mean, it is unlikely any of us will become mass murderers like Elliot Rodger because we more social skills, strong friends, and a different personality. But much what he wrote was not crazy at all.
How many of us have experienced fear, loneliness, depression, jealousy, bitterness, and self-hatred at being part/fully Asian?
How many of us struggle with addictive behavior, family break-down, neglect by fathers, rejection, bullying and isolation from others?
He was angry at how quickly his white father found a girlfriend after he divorced his Chinese mom. He was angry about being rejected by white women. It wasn't just misogyny, he hated everyone. There’s literally millions of people who wrestle the same feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness. You think Elliot Rodger is the first guy to believe that about himself? There’s not a person in this room who hasn’t believed a lie about God and themselves. But Elliot Rodger believed lies about himself – that he wasn’t lovable, that no girl wanted him, that losing his virginity was the only thing worth living for.
David understood the power of truth over lies.
2 Samuel 1:14-16 David asked him, "Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?" Then David called one of his men and said, "Go, strike him down!" So he struck him down, and he died. For David had said to him, "Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, 'I killed the LORD's anointed.'"
David recognizes his enemy and it is not Saul. The battle is for truth. See there’s this weird plot line going on here. There’s this Amalekite guy who comes bringing this report and it’s particularly strange because in the previous chapter, the end of 1 Samuel, ch. 31, tells the real story of what happened. Saul was getting pressed on every side, asked his armor bearer to finish him off, but the armor bearer refused and so Saul fell on his sword and died. And when the armor bearer saw this, he did the same.
The point of all this is that this Amalekite is telling a lie – he’s telling a competing version of the truth. He’s lying because he wants to curry favor with David. And Satan is using this opportunity to tempt David even after Saul is dead. David is supposed to be happy that Saul is dead! Saul wanted to kill David. The Amalekite thinks David should be thinking that Saul is the enemy so if he claims to kill Saul, then he’s David’s friend.
Live by the lie, die by the lie. But David, the future king of Israel, recognizes that Saul is not the enemy – that’s the lie. That’s the lie that keeps coming back to tempt him, every time Saul is delivered into David’s hands, he has the chance to kill him. The lie is there – kill Saul – he’s the enemy. But he’s not. David recognizes God's truth is that the LORD's anointed is meant to be celebrated and anyone who bears malice towards deserves death. So he has the liar killed. If you live by the lie, you will die by the lie. Unfortunately, others died with Elliot Rodger in his lie. But that's what happens in war.
There’s an enemy today and it’s not crazy people who stab and wound others. Even Buddhists agree with that. During the candlelight vigil, a representative from a Buddhist organization said that Elliot Rodger suffered from a confused mind. He could not be more correct. The question is – what is the truth? Buddhism and Christianity offer competing versions of the truth. Everyone in the media is offering different versions of the truth. The narrative war rages about the true cause of his rampage: #YesAllWomen (misogyny), Asian discrimination, bullying, white privilege, mental illness, bad parenting, etc. There's validity in each of them but I'm focused on a bigger narrative - the truth vs. lie. Buddhism says loss is preventable, people are fundamentally good, and we can change the world with love and care. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We are fundamentally flawed and self-centered and we have no hope without the specific divine intervention of Jesus and his death and resurrection. Only that truth saves and sets free. We serve a king who became man who will one day return and end all suffering and death.
When people believe lies about themselves, they believe lies about God. That is the battle. That’s where the war is. It’s a spiritual battle for people’s hearts and minds. I don’t pretend for a second that anyone could have made a difference in Rodger’s life but believe me, the hearts and minds of people is a battle worth fighting for.
There’s a battle for your hearts and minds today – don’t be deceived by the nice house you live in, the nice cars your parents drive, and the great colleges your peers get into. My calling is to destroy lies with truth; my weapon is the word of God. If you haven’t considered ministry until today, consider it. The battle is real. The enemy is real. The losses are real. And we need soldiers to fight.
Mourning recognizes the war is real. The battle is truth vs. lie. If you’re on God’s side, get your battle gear on because we live in victory against the forces of darkness. We are ambassadors for the victory of truth. We serve the king who was slain for us and was raised to life. We walk in victory today by proclaiming truth over lie and will reign with Him forever when He returns.