"You may not forget them," my friend said, "but they will not always torment you." He knew that I was beginning to turn to God for healing that would bring closure to haunting memories surrounding a tragedy regarding the death of a loved one. My friend was right. But for me, the relief didn't come, as I'd expected, in one incident or in one great revelation. There were many healing steps along the way that eventually brought closure.
Many people suffering from loss or wrongs done to them or to their families yearn for closure. Keeping busy and filling our days with distractions doesn't bring permanent relief. We essentially live in our thinking, and often in the busiest of days, the slightest incident can trigger troubling memories.
When it comes to criminal acts against individuals or whole communities, people often seek closure through our system of justice. But trial, conviction, imprisonment, or even the execution of the perpetrator will not permanently remove the torment of haunting memories. What's needed is a clearer understanding of God as divine Love, and that He purposes only good for His creation, and that He is powerful enough to meet every need. Such an understanding of God convinces us that He did not cause the tragedy, and that His love, appealed to and understood, brings resolution and healing.
Once this resolution is reached through spiritual understanding, nothing can reopen wounds - not publicity, gossip, legal battles, or even the sudden recollection of certain incidents.
Many have found the Biblical book of Job helpful when working through loss, and the doubts and confusions raised by tragedy in their lives. The book can help us appreciate and imbibe "the patience of Job," but more important, it can help lead to the understanding that God is supreme and that nothing unlike God, who is good, has eternal reality.
After many trials and much conversation about them, the character Job speaks to God, saying, "I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted." Recognizing that while he may have said similar words before, he admits that he didn't really know how wonderful God is. And he adds, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee" (42:2, 5).
In her seminal work, Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science and of this newspaper, wrote, "Mortals will echo Job's thought, when the supposed pain and pleasure of matter cease to predominate. They will then drop the false estimate of life and happiness, of joy and sorrow, and attain the bliss of loving unselfishly, working patiently, and conquering all that is unlike God" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 262). Gaining a deeper conviction that God's purposes will not be thwarted, we will be guided unselfishly, and even lovingly, to conquer "all that is unlike God," good.
Some criminal acts, although inflicted on individuals, are really direc-ted against the government. In such cases, those harmed, as well as the whole country, are interested in the punishment. Many have learned, however, as Dostoyevsky profoundly illustrated in his novel, "Crime and Punishment," punishment doesn't necessarily end the matter or ensure happiness. Something far higher is needed, even if it seems more difficult to attain. In striving to see the allness and power of God, we will, as Job did, understand that evil never has the last word. We'll find that we can trust God's mercy and justice and even find it possible to forgive. That one can forgive is a great spiritual gift. It is the way of closure.
The mental wounds we bear may be unhealed for various reasons. Perhaps we blame ourselves for a tragedy or have an incessant desire for revenge. But whatever the reason, it is possible to turn to the law of love, which Job experienced and which other Biblical teachers, especially Jesus Christ, explained. Often it takes much prayer to forgive ourselves. Likewise, freeing a desire for justice from any tinge of revenge demands honest searching of our heart. Punishment alone won't clear the clouds of sorrow; forgiving love can. If we've been the victim of another's offense, we can trust God to recompense us and to leave the offender to the repentance that must surely come. Self-justification cannot stand. God's purpose of eternal good cannot be thwarted.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor