Martha, Habakkuk, and the Reward of Grief

Martha, Habakkuk, and the Reward of Grief

Article by Matt Scheuneman
As I have wrestled with the concept of grief and my own grieving process, two people have challenged me — Martha and Habakkuk. They are two individuals in the Bible who don't get much mention. So, why these two?

Martha, for one, seems to need someone to stand in her corner regarding her comparison to her sister Mary. I don't want to justify all her actions, but I do want to empathize with her. She gets the claim of "not choosing the better portion," as her sister did. This is true… Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha got angry and brought her complaint to Jesus, and Jesus gently rebuked her.
Yet, she kept coming to Jesus. This is what I want to celebrate in Martha. She was relentless in her pursuit of Him. In John 11, after her brother died, she repeatedly came to Jesus with her complaint and her grievance.

"Now, when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."

Not only did she come to Christ as the person to whom had the answers, but she also brought her sister with her.
"When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him."

Now, we all grieve in different ways, and we need to respect the process for each person. However, it has always stuck out to me how John writes the difference between the two women. Both women were grieving, but only one continually came to Christ. There is something to be celebrated in Martha's persistence to bring her complaint before the Lord. Not only this, but she chose to return for Mary.

We cannot grieve in isolation. We grieve in community.

So, what about Habakkuk? In reading Habakkuk, you may notice that he has a similar attitude that we need to consider. First, his letter of prophecy is laid in a way that explicitly outlines his complaint. In Habakkuk's time, the Assyrians had already occupied Israel, and the Babylonians were on the way. The road before Habakkuk and the Israelites was only going to worsen.

We are not the Israelites. Yet, if you read Habakkuk, I can often feel similarities in the grievance he shares. I appreciate this letter because it shows me how grief is not just the loss of a person but also the loss of anything. A job. A move. A way of life. A season of heartache. What a pandemic has taken away…

Habakkuk had every reason to grieve, and I believe we get to witness this grieving process through his prophetic letter. In a Job-like fashion, we get a call and response type interaction between him and God. Yet, as challenging as God's responses are, notice how Habakkuk keeps returning to the Father.

Deeper still, look at the language he uses to seek the answer of the LORD at the beginning of chapter 2!

"I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint."

Habakkuk shows the unrelenting reliance on God for his answers, even when they don't come at first, even when they don't make sense, even when they hurt. He is not leaning on God for the answers that make him feel good; he is leaning on God for THE answer.

Listen, I know it's been a painful couple of years, where so much has been lost. We have all lost something or someone; I believe it's time we collectively grieve and continue to grieve. Grief has too often been rejected and labeled "bad ." I'd like to reframe grief as good, as needed, as a collective. But, this grief has to be held before Christ to say, "we don't understand, but we want to understand!"

Lord, I believe… Help my unbelief.

The joy that comes from grieving in the ways of Martha and Habakkuk is the realization of the unmovable foundation upon which we as Christians stand.

We, like Peter, stand upon the waves with eyes fixed on Jesus. Yet, so often, I notice the waves and begin to sink. And often, with Peter, that is what we focus on. "Oh, Peter… he took his eyes off Jesus and sank."

However, first, he stood.
This, at least, is what I want to strive for.
I have grieved a lot in my life. I will continue to grieve more. I know more will come. This world, these years, and all that it holds will continue to offer moments of grief. I'd like to call us into this grief process together.
My friend and mentor Kevin Huggins calls this "Grief Work ." I believe this to be an accurate word choice. It is work, and work can often be hard. But, work can also be extremely rewarding! The paradoxical truth of grief is that joy resides within it. Joy. Not happiness. Happiness comes and goes, but joy is eternal.

Read the close of Habakkuk. May we follow in his and Martha's footsteps as we grieve together at the feet of Christ.

"I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."

Matt Scheuneman

Counselor in Biblical Life Ministry
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