The Christian faith gives us unparalleled resources for facing grief. Not every author is adept at identifying those resources and communicating them to the grieving, but Bob Kellemen is. In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses Bob identifies the therapeutic resources of the Christian faith wonderfully, but more than that he provides the grieving with a framework for walking through suffering with God. This is easily the most helpful tool I have read on grief.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously identified five stages of grief. Her model has served, at the popular level, as the defining framework for grief. Research, however, has shown that not only is there no evidence that these five stages exist, neither do these stage seem to accurately reflect the lived experiences of various grieving people. Kellemen develops a framework which, while overlapping with some of Kubler-Ross’s categories, seeks to offer a truly Biblical guide to working through loss. He proposes a “revelation-based model” (i.e. one grounded in Scripture) which guides us through eight stages of response to loss. Those eight stages make up the core of the book.
In the introduction Kellemen starts by giving ups hope. He reassures us that there is no loss, no hurt, no pain in this life that cannot be redeemed by our Lord. ” Quoting former British Hostage Terry Waite, he says:
It seems to me that Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you to take it, to face it, to work through it and eventually convert it. (4)
It is particularly through the cross of Christ that suffering is converted. There is hope for sufferers because our Lord knows what suffering is; He faced it. It was through such suffering that He brought about redemption. In light of this, Kellemen urges us to look to God in the midst of suffering. Tragedy causes a crisis of faith, he says. But when tragedy strikes we can either move closer to God of further away; there is hope for those who move towards Him.
Chapter one introduces Bob’s framework and the eight Scriptural stages. He notes that while the Kubler-Ross model may describe some people’s experiences of grief it doesn’t tell us what our experience should be. It may be descriptive in some measure (though I would argue it’s less descriptive than many think), but it cannot actually guide us on how God wants us to work through grief. The Bible offers us more than description; it “equips us to move through hurt to hope in Christ – from grieving to growing” (18).
Chapters 2-5 walk readers through what Kellemen calls the “sustaining phase” of suffering. Here we learn to be honest with ourselves about the pain. Denial does not serve us in the healing process. We must be willing to face up to loss and sorrow with eyes wide open. We also learn to be honest with God. The Psalmist guides us in offering a Biblical complaint to the Lord. This is not anger at God, but rather a cry of desperation to Him, an expression of confusion and hurt. This discussion is, in my opinion, one of the best in the book. We also lean how to cry, to ask God for help which is an act of faith, not of bargaining. Finally, stage four encourages us to go to God for comfort.
Chapters 6-9 walk readers through the “healing phase” of suffering. Here readers are moving from a proper understanding of their sorrow into a process of growth through sorrow. We learn to wait on the Lord instead of seeking self-sufficiency. We learn to groan as those who have hope. The grief doesn’t just end because we look to God, but we can learn to grieve differently. We learn too to see our suffering story through the lens of God’s greater story. We are not responding to life with despair but with the perception of God’s grace all around us. Finally, we learn to worship. Sufferers will learn how to seek God and desire God again, and how to take delight in Him even if we don’t find the answers we want to explain our troubles.
The book is profound for its length. It offers true guidance and real hope in its roughly 100 pages. I wish I had read it when my own father passed away. In addition it is an engaging book. The chapters invite the reader to be self-reflective and answer personal questions at the end of each chapter. It also offers opportunities to journal our thoughts in light of the various stages of grief. It is a very practical book in addition to its theological richness.
There are, no doubt, many wonderful resources available to the sufferer. From my vantage point God’s Healing for Life’s Losses is the most valuable. I was helped by its structure, its grounding in Scripture, and its practical engagement. I know it is a book we already use in our Grief Share program, but it is a book I will refer people to throughout our church. I highly recommend God’s Healing for Life’s Losses.
Having “lost” (for now) one of my children, I look forward to working my way through this book. Many other books and pamphlets describe what loss and grieving look like, but this looks/sounds like a most constructive book.