‘Grieving, Hope and Solace’ by Al Martin – A Review

I recommended ‘Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a loved one dies In Christ‘ by Al Martin two years ago (almost to the day) but that was only on reading the first chapter. At long last, I have finished it. When I first started the book the grieving was still quite raw. It’s taken me these two years to read it maybe because I completely entered into the author’s own experience.

I don’t think on a practical level, for me, it’s quite as helpful as the book by James White. Al Martin’s book though is answering a different question. The book is focused on dealing with the bereavement of a spouse and is asking ‘What happens to a Christian loved one when they die?’ He not only answers that question but shows the relevance of that knowledge to the here and now for the grieving spouse.

The book (my copy) was first published by Cruciform Press in 2011 and written several years after his wife died, based on a series of sermons he preached soon after she died. It’s a short book at just 116 pages as this usually needs to be. it’s easy to read with short chapters with several headings for each chapter. There are only a few endnotes but with lots of scripture references throughout. It’s divided into Four Parts with a total of 13 Chapters plus a preface. Although there’s a lot of theology I definitely entered into his grief. It touched a lot of nerves for me. I’m grateful for that.

My copy is full of notes, underlining and asterisks. I can only mention a few things. The reality of his grief is evident. He doesn’t hide it. This paragraph from page 21 I thought was very helpful.

‘The idea here is not that if we truly obey these verses, we will no longer suffer the pain of loss. In my best efforts to fix my thoughts on the things above, I still felt the pain of my wife’s absence. Rather, in the midst of our grief (Italics are his) – which can be painful, sorrowful, lengthy, and at times even debilitating – the kind of grieving that brings glory to God nevertheless includes a grace-motivated determination, in obedience to these verses, to direct our thoughts to the things above. This both glorifies God and helps to ease – not eliminate – the pain and sorrow of our grief.’ (The verses he is referring to are Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3: 1-2.)

Then this from page 95 & 96:

Few things more quickly and effectively snap some of the shackles that bind us to this world than does the death of a dearly loved one. Tenderly holding their lifeless form in our arms, or wistfully looking as they lie in a coffin, such experiences become powerful voices. These voices call out, urging us to obtain the wisdom that alone can enable us to live as those who “number our days.”

There are three sections in Chapter 10 (God’s Purposes In Us Through This Death) that I noted by writing Vital!!! Couldn’t be overstated!

The headings are: We Have Opportunity to Grow in Fellowship (page 93). For this, I had in mind some very special people who helped immensely during Sue’s illness and after she had died. Also: The Word of God comes more Vividly Alive (page 94). This is so true. The Scripture becomes alive in a completely new and fresh way. And: We Become More Heavenly Minded (page 94). Heaven is close.

There’s an extremely poignant paragraph at the beginning of that chapter where I wrote the following in the margin: I have no doubt about this. This was upon my mind very early on. However, it made me feel responsible for her death. I realise I’m not. But even so…. This is the paragraph I was responding to:

‘When a servant of God prays from the heart, “Lord, do whatever you need to do to me and in me to make me a better shepherd of your people,” we have no idea how God will answer. For me, such a prayer was answered in part by God’s severe mercy in taking Marilyn from me. (page 85)’

A severe mercy. Indeed so. I’m not a shepherd but God will sanctify His people. In all honesty, as I’m writing this and looking through the book at my notes and underlinings I realise how helpful the book has been. It helps enormously to have your own experience confirmed. Not everyone can enter into it with you but this author, for me, has done that. And for that, I’m truly thankful. I’m sure he will do that for others. Not for everyone, but it will help some. Maybe it will help you.

The only parts of the book I found unhelpful and that jarred with my own experience is how perfect his wife was through her illness right up until her death. Sue wasn’t like that, and yet I think for all her struggles with dying she displayed the grace of God in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had she been so perfect. Obviously, I can’t criticise Al Martin’s wife Marilyn for dying so well (by the grace of God in that way). My note in the book reads: ‘We must not make these things the norm, wonderful though it is.‘ I’m glad that was her testimony. I just don’t think that is the experience of most people. As Christians, we don’t want to admit how hard dying is. Death is the final enemy. And it is horrible. Really horrible. So in Sue’s dying, I saw a paradox. I saw how hard it was for us both, especially for her, and yet I saw the grace of God displayed through her in a truly remarkable manner. That glorified God I believe.

The book closes with a Gospel message that tells it straight but points to the only hope. That hope is found in The Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who has conquered death.

I still recommend the book. I do wonder about the recommendations that come on the cover with this type of book. Do they know anything of what the author is talking about? I think the answer is often, no they don’t. That’s just my opinion, as all this is. There is so much in the book, not a word is wasted. Ministers of the Gospel ought to read it as they are going to encounter grief in their people. The book will help prepare you. Grief is such a personal thing. I’m not sure it would be the first book I’d reach for to give to a grieving spouse, but then it depends who it’s for. It’s not a touchy-feely book, but it is real. Above all, we need the reality of Christ and His Word and His presence. This book by God’s grace will help. Order it from your local Bookshop.

I’d love the opportunity to speak with the author.

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