Losing a loved one can feel like a crushing blow, but as believers we must trust that God has important purposes behind death.
“I remember, 3 o’clock in the morning,” Ben Crandall related in a sermon on life and death, “on January the 18th, our doorbell rang.
“I jumped up, grabbed my housecoat, put on my slippers and ran downstairs. I opened the door, and there are two policemen, and their heads are down. ‘You Mr. Crandall?’ And I say, ‘Yes.’
“Then they say, ‘Your daughter was just killed.’
“My wife is coming down the stairs, and she screams, ‘No! It’s not us.’ She’s half screaming and crying, “It’s not us! It’s not Karen.’
“One officer says, ‘Mrs. Crandall, it is you. It is your daughter, and she is dead.’
“We’re standing there stunned. The sorrow…. You can’t describe it.”
Grief’s Expiration Date
Grief that comes on the heels of losing a loved one is life-changing for many people. Impossible to prepare for, grief looks different for nearly everyone. Each person who has lost parents or children or any dear soul in their life carries a mark in their heart, a ring of pain like a bell struck.
In the face of this kind of deep hurt, the quippy adage, “Time heals all wounds” feels flimsy and untrue.
Personally, I can’t think of anyone I’ve known who has had one or both of their parents pass away, who has lost a sibling, experienced a miscarriage or had a child die and has said even years later, “Yup, shrugged that one right off. All better now.”
Paul writes to the church about this kind of loss. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV).
Nowhere does it say, “thou shalt not grieve” or “thou shalt only grieve for a certain period of time.”
“Grief is an expression of injustice,” Sharon Dirckx pointed out in her article on the topic. “Death is not natural; it’s an aberration that jars against the core of our being, regardless of our attempts to rationalize it.”
Paul merely says not to grieve like those with no hope, and then he goes on to remind believers of Christ’s resurrection that means we too will be called up from the grave. The cross offers a solution to the breach of sin which caused the curse of death in the first place.
The only expiration date God puts on grief is when we’re finally with him.
Why God Allows Mourning
In his article on grief, Mark Galli reflects on Jesus’ blessing for those who mourn in the Beatitudes: “…accept the grief. Accept the mourning. Don't fight it. Don't deny it. Don't wall yourself off from people. Don't kill the feeling with drugs or alcohol or other risky behavior.
“Just let the pain make its way through you. It is a blessed pain. It means you are a healthy individual. You have entered into relationships that mean something; you've risked caring about others. You've decided to love…”
Not only is grief a natural and even right reaction to death, but there also seems to be several important reasons why God permits it in our lives.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV).
People who have known serious loss are going to be the most empathetic to those who are dealing with the death of a loved one.
This is a crucial opportunity to show God’s love and comfort to someone else, either a brother or sister in Christ or an unbeliever who may desperately need to know about the hope Jesus offers.
Conversely, death and grieving can open a door for us to experience the love of godly community and absorb how important God’s good news truly is all over again, or for the first time.
Having the Last Word
Perhaps the most important thing that death and grief does is make us examine our own readiness to be with God.
David Wilkerson points out in his booklet Ultimate Healing, “Paul said, ‘To die is gain!’ (Philippians 1:21)….was Paul morbid? Did he have an unhealthy fixation on death or show a lack of respect for the life God had blessed him with?
“Absolutely not. Paul lived life to the fullest, but he had overcome the fear of the ‘sting of death’ and could say, ‘It is better to die and be with the Lord than to stay in the flesh.’”
Perhaps it would help if we considered all of our longing to be with someone we love again to be a reflection of how much God loves us and wants us to be with him in heaven, beyond sin and pain.
Even over death and grief, love will have the last word.