(RNS) Grief without God is a challenge for nonbelievers

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When Rebecca Hensler’s infant son died in 2009, she received numerous condolences from friends, colleagues and even total strangers she met online.

She knew their intentions were good, but their words weren’t always helpful. And in the rawness of her grief, Hensler found some of them downright hurtful.

Hensler is an atheist, so when people described her three-month-old son Jude as being an angel, or part of God’s plan, or “in a better place” than in his mother’s arms, the pain sometimes overwhelmed her.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryDeath / Burial / Funerals* Culture-WatchPsychologyReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsAtheism

Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Pete Haynsworth wrote:

So much comment on grieving is about what _not_ to say.

To this grizzled pew-sitter, the portion of a memorial service homily - here, starting at 43:35 - recently given by Andrew Meade, rector of St Thomas Church - Fifth Ave, NYC, would be quite comforting in the face of the sudden, very premature death of a loved one.

To the plaint, “Why So-and-so?” is the perhaps-ironic response, “Why So-and-so ... at all?

It seems a gentle redirection to thinking of just how worthy the loved one had been of such grief.

Pete Haynsworth

February 21, 6:45 pm | [comment link]
2. jkc1945 wrote:

Look, I absolutely defend the right of a person to insist on their own Atheism.  But an integral part of that system of belief MUST be, “There is no hope, absolutely no hope.  This life is what we have, and then we are food for worms.”
That being the case, I really have little feeling of empathy for those who complain when their hopelessness is somehow interrupted by someone else’s hope.  If I can bring myself to defend their right to be hopeless in the loss of a ‘loved one,’ (which is pretty much an anomaly in atheism, after all) then they can cut me some slack if I insist on MY right to be hopeful, even for their loved one (whom I may really have loved, since I see love as an eternal quality).

February 21, 10:49 pm | [comment link]
3. upnorfjoel wrote:

Very well stated #2.  Of course, the other option is not to speak of any hope.  How very cold and lonely that place must be.

February 21, 11:59 pm | [comment link]
4. Teatime2 wrote:

Death and grief provide the greatest trials in life, and they sometimes can make skeptics out of believers and believers out of skeptics. I think we should tred gently around anyone who is grieving. Platitudes aren’t helpful.

The stuff about a dead baby becoming an angel and blaming God for “taking” our loved ones are just bad theology and hardly consoling. I just tell the grieving, no matter their personal beliefs or lack thereof, that I’m very sorry for their loss and I mean it.

February 22, 2:08 am | [comment link]
5. Br. Michael wrote:

The standard platitudes are bad period.  But 2 is absolutely right.  Atheism coupled with a natural materialist worldview offers no hope.  And “yes” you can comfort the grieving.  But what we can’t do, if we honor their wolrdview, is offer them the true joy of a Christian in knowing that not even death can separate us from Jesus.

February 22, 7:28 am | [comment link]
6. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

Today on Ash Wednesday, the ashes contain the truth of the atheist.  This is where you came from and this is where you are going.  Your community is dotted with cemetaries which attest to this truth.  Your life, your hope is defined by the grave.

Yet, it need not be this way.  Despite our profound sinfullness which makes us totally unworthy of God’s favor to be upon us, He indeed does favor us by the gift of His only Son who willingly died on the cross for our unpardonable sins that we might be reconciled to the Father and enjoy everlasting life in His Kingdom be following His Son in faith.

I have had atheists get very mad at me for offering the words of Hope.  Yet these are the words I offer to everyone, along with prayers that the words will take root and sprout in their hearts.  With God, all things are possible.

February 22, 10:46 am | [comment link]
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