You may have heard the news last week of the tragic death of Peaches Geldof, one of the children of Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates. Cause of death is uncertain at the moment, but it looks remarkably like suicide. Bob Geldof's words express the reality of hopeless grief: The family are "beyond pain" he said. One newspaper headline caught my eye.
This is London's free rag. The headline sparked some controversy. But it did get me thinking about how we encourage the bereaved and made me realise - once again - that a lot of our bereavement counselling takes this kind of reuniting line. "At least you'll see him again..." we might say. Or perhaps we might silently endorse someone who says something similar about the loss of a loved one.
Without wanting to sound too callous, I think that is pastorally harmful. I know that in the midst of grief we hold onto any hope we can get. But that kind of advice is both pastorally unhelpful and theologically misguided.
- It is pastorally unhelpful because if we allow it to stand unchallenged, the rest of the bereaved person's life is about waiting for death with an eager anticipation. It does not really allow someone to grieve and move on, which is what we should be encouraging. At its worst, especially in the young, it may even encourage ideas of taking one's own life in order to speed the reunion process.
- It is theologically misguided because reunion is not a biblical paradigm, except where the reunion is with Christ. I have no doubt I will recognise people in the new creation, but the defining glory of that new place will be "with Christ." There will be no marriage. Earthly relationships will be surpassed. I will relate to you, dead reader, better then than I do to my wife now. And that's saying something. If we let the reunion model of grief stand then we detract from the reality of what is "better by far."
I hope that doesn't sound cold. I firmly believe that it is ultimately better than any earthly reunion. So it must be for our good.