Excerpted from ‘Either Way, We’ll Be All Right’
Either Way, We’ll Be All Right
By Eric Tonjes
The devil, Scripture tells us, is like a prowling lion (1 Peter 5:8). Typically we read that as a reference to Satan’s strength and ferocity, and that is certainly true. However, lions aren’t the creatures we imagine. They spend plenty of time as scavengers, eating the dead carcasses they discover. Even when hunting, they tend to strike at the slowest and weakest of their prey. Perhaps this is why Peter tells us to be on our guard because he is “seeking someone to devour”—the Devil is circling the herd, looking for stragglers to pick off.
If the last section is an encouragement, I offer this one as a warning. Grief can make us vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Temptation is at its most dangerous when we are worn out, discouraged, or lonely. Christians don’t often dwell on the dangers of walking through grief because our instinct, rightly, is to focus on communicating empathy and understanding. Nonetheless, we need to be careful.
There are all sorts of things we use to medicate our pain. This impulse is not inherently bad. The means of grace, viewed from a certain angle, are such a coping mechanism. We can find good comfort in this world. The pleasure of a soft bed or a meal with friends or even just the distraction of a good movie can all be life-giving in their proper place. We are embodied creatures, and God gave our bodies experiences and desires that can bless and encourage us. But all worldly coping mechanisms carry dangers as well. Any of them, when indulged wrongly or too much, can end up being destructive, especially when we are wrestling with grief.
Sorrow can open us up to enormous temptation to use things in ways that ultimately imprison us. This danger is most obvious in things like alcohol, painkillers, or pornography. I have watched grieving people slip into addictions from which they feel they cannot escape. However, we can also destructively medicate through subtler sins. Losing oneself in the internet or television, impulsive eating or overspending, or even social isolation can slowly suck the life from our souls.
Such temptations, while they might start off as a way of alleviating our sorrow, can become traps that end up making things worse. This is the cycle of addiction. We start off medicating our wounds from the world, but we sacrifice family and friends and our sense of ourselves to our chosen medicine. Soon the wounds we are treating are caused by the cure rather than the original disease, and we are well and truly stuck. There is no easy upward road out of the valley of sorrow. We may walk it for years to come. However, there is a path downward, deeper into the darkness. In our grief, we need to be on our guard against the ways our flesh and the devil can leverage it to our destruction.
Such coping mechanisms can also crowd out more life-giving alternatives. It is harder to pray or sit in Scripture than it is to wallow or overindulge, but it is also better. I could spend the evening stuffing my face and watching sports or I could go for a jog and play with my kids. The first option isn’t always wrong, but if it is what we consistently choose, we are depriving ourselves of things that offer more joy.
Saying all that makes my heart hurt because I know it isn’t easy. When we feel like we are broken, we hear the call to fight on and despair for the strength to do it. If your heart is in that place, as mine often is, let me offer three encouragements.
First, you have the love of God, even when you fail. God’s grace covers all our sins. We need that grace so that we don’t give up when we fall. God calls us to pursue health because it is good for us, not because he is going to smite us for failing. He is compassionate toward us in our weakness. That compassion doesn’t excuse our sin, but it does mean that when we screw up, God is quick to embrace us and forgive us.
At the same time, God’s love will give us strength. Paul gives us this promise: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). As hard as it is to believe, that is true even when we are at our weakest. God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. The main tactic of the devil is to convince us we are already beaten. The discouragement of dark places only enhances this attack. In response, we must remind ourselves that God is present, and he is powerful, and he will support us as we seek to turn from the things that destroy us.
Lastly, one of the greatest weapons God gives us is each other. Shame or guilt makes us hide our struggles with sin. This tendency to hide deprives us of one of the best defenses we have against the devil’s attacks. Share your burden with a friend. Talk about your struggles with a pastor or counselor. You are not alone in this, no matter how you feel.
Excerpted from Either Way, We’ll Be All Right: An Honest Explanation of God In Our Grief by Eric Tonjes. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.