“Good grief!” Everyone remembers the expression of exasperation immortalized by the hapless Charlie Brown and the whole Peanuts gang. But although Charles Schultz’s characters were no doubt responsible for the popularity of the phrase (just as some historians claim that the television special A Charlie Brown Christmas was responsible for the demise of the aluminum Christmas tree), they didn’t invent it.
“What’s the origin of the phrase?” people ask over the Internet. “And how can grief be good?”
The consensus answer to the first question is that “good grief” is actually a euphemism, a way of avoiding exclaiming “good God!” and violating the commandment against taking God’s name in vain. You can imagine people starting to say “Good God,” catching themselves just as they get out the second G, and quickly substituting the first word that comes to mind. Thus we have “good golly,” “good gracious,” and of course, “good grief.”
The answer to the second question, then, is to sweep it away: the phrase only exists because the word “grief” begins with the letter “g,” and no one is trying to say that grief is good. End of story.
Or not. I’d like to suggest that there is such a thing as good grief. And it’s because we have a good God.
As mentioned in a recent post, I had the privilege a few weeks ago of officiating a memorial service on behalf of a family in our church. The death was a tragic one, and as one would expect, the mood was somber. But family members had delightful stories to tell. There were smiles, even laughter.
And above all, the message of heavenly hope rang true and clear.
It is a deeply painful thing to lose a loved one, especially when there has been no time to prepare, no opportunity to steel your spirit against the impending loss. And yet it makes a difference to know that the end of this life is not the end of the story. Those who believe in the goodness of God as demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus have something to cling to in faith, something upon which to hang their hopes.
“But,” you might say, “that’s just a way of coping with grief. It doesn’t make grief itself good.” Perhaps. But we may also need to rethink our stereotypes of the grieving process itself, both for our own good and that of our brothers and sisters who are bereaved.
More on that in the next post.