Articles and Publications

Pilgrim's Guides


  If Grief Takes Convoluted Paths
Part Eight



Resisting Anxiety
Resisting Pain-prone Reactions
Resisting Grief going Underground
Resisting the Stoic Approach

Resisting the Impulse to Flee
Resisting making Contact with the Dead
Resisting the Temptation to Suicide

Resisting the Desire to take Revenge
Resisting the but-what-ifs
Resisting excessive Self-consciousness
Resisting Aftershocks

  Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. “That sort of talk makes me sick,” they say.
And half of you already want to ask me, “I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?”
C.S. Lewis
  For long hours Jesus hung on the Cross, the agony of the nails adding to the excruciating pain from the stripes on His back. As the sun beat down on on His exposed head, thirst and hunger combined to take their toll on His body until He finally weakened and died.

At one level, we know that what happened on the Cross was the foreordained means by which God intended to save the world. At another level, it came about because one jaded disciple succumbed to greed and betrayed his master. We may be inclined to dismiss the thirty pieces of silver Judas received as if they were of no account, but the amount represented several months wages for a skilled worker: six or seven thousand pounds perhaps in today’s terms. Is there any limit to the depths people are prepared to stoop to for love of money?

The distance between trusted friend and turncoat betrayer is not always as great as one would like to imagine. Many years ago, a godly man, who has long served as one of my mentors suddenly declared, “You’re going to be betrayed one day!” Several years later this did indeed occur – and the pain was overwhelming. Shortly after it happened, I had an intense vision of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. I could feel the grief involved as Judas did what he did to betray his master. It ushered in the most painful episode in my life: one that took several years to even begin to recover from.

These things are rarely as clear cut as they were in Jesus’ case. Most of us have our own part in the proceedings to repent of when relationships break down. I know that I did in this instance. Forgiveness has an important role to play then in ensuring that such experiences do not disempower us entirely. Be warned, however: this is not always an easy or a once-off event. It is easy to assume that we have forgiven someone who has hurt us deeply, but we may only discover whether this really is the case if the person continues to cause us problems . Or if they fall into trouble and we find that there is nothing in us that rejoices over their plight.

Once again, David is an excellent model for us to follow. Saul had caused him the most acute distress imaginable, yet the lament he composed for him is exquisitely generous.14 Is our heart equally generous towards those who have made life hard for us?

This is not to underestimate the effects such betrayal can have on us. If you have ever been seriously “targetted” and abused, You will know how much it can damage your self-esteem and confidence – not to mention playing havoc with your trust in the stability of life.

It is by no means always obvious how we should respond to such things. Sometimes it may be perfectly legitimate to have recourse to normal legal or pastoral procedures, but whenever we find ourselves longing for vindication, it is usually wisest to leave such matters firmly in the Lord’s hands. He alone knows the full reason why people behave as they do.

In terms of reaching out to those from whom we are estranged, Scripture urges us to make haste and be reconciled as quickly as possible.15 Sometimes, however, there may be wisdom in staying away from someone while they are still in the first flush of their anger, lest we come under the influence of that spirit ourselves.

Venting our feelings directly with the person who has hurt us can actually make relationships worse, especially if the other person takes our outburst badly, or is unwilling to consider the matter from any other point of view.

There is also the danger of us overreacting. I have found that when I lose my temper, I usually lose a great deal more besides. I discover afresh the hard way that the anger of man does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20). The Scriptures point us in an altogether different direction. A harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).

If we manage to share our perspective gently, and are both willing to make adjustments in order to strengthen the relationship, then everything is still possible. The Scriptures celebrate that God devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from Him. (2 Samuel 14:14). Jesus calls us to love our enemies, for He not only comforts us in our grief but delights, too, to forgive the perpetrators of it. Heaven will be full of those who once sinned grievously. Look how quick God was to respond when even seriously evil kings such as Ahab and Manasseh sought his face – to say nothing of Saul the Pharisee.16 Heaven will be full of such trophies of grace, as well as those redeemed from less dramatic sinfulness.

Sadly, there is nothing automatic about sinners turning to God. Jesus loved Judas and called him “friend,”17 but He did not reach out to him after his act of betrayal. I am reminded of Augustine’s penetrating insight: “One of the thieves was damned, do not presume; one of the thieves was saved, do not despair.”

Reflect and Pray
Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you.
Proverbs 20:22

If we get to the root of most relationship breakdowns, what do we usually find? Seeds of envy that have turned into strong-holds. As the Scriptures warn, envy rots the bones (Proverbs 14:30, 27:4). The Lord Jesus lived amongst people filled with strife and envy, yet He took on none of their traits. We could say the same about King David. Deep down, David felt no need to prove himself. But how about us? Does envy have any foothold in our life? If it does, it will be a certain cause of grief.

Lord, check my heart for any trace of this deadly poison.

Keep me blessing, not resenting,
trusting, not dismissing,
and honouring, not denouncing.

Set me free from from this base emotion –
for if I am envious of others,
I am disapproving of the way
that You have ordained things.


Resisting the but-what-ifs
Child, I am telling you your own story, not hers.
I tell no one any story but his own.
Did I not explain to you once before
that no one is ever told what would have happened
C.S. Lewis18   Read More . . .
14 2 Samuel 1:19f
15 Matthew 5:23-25; Matthew 18:15
16 1 Kings 21:25-29; 2 Chronicles 33:12-13; Acts 9:3-4;
17 Matthew 26:50

Back to top
Main Index
On to Resisting the but-what-ifs
Back to Resisting the Temptation to Suicide