Last year, amidst the wedding season, I was asked to accompany my mum to a funeral home, where her friend’s mother had just passed. Not knowing anyone there, I honestly was not too moved, until we sat and conversed with the host. There, I sat with a woman who was deeply grieving for the loss of a mother whom she so loved, who was at the same time striving to be okay, as she wrestled with the sovereignty and goodness of God. Multiple times, I saw her fight her tears, while uttering, “she’s in better hands,” and “I know I’ll see her again.”
when it still hurts
There is no denying that losing a loved one, be it through a breakup or a separation as severe as death, causes grief. Regardless of the cause, a loss is a loss, and in one way or another, sorrow would surface. “Deepest condolences” are uttered, as people try to comfort those who mourn. Even when we say “she is in a better place,” we do so heavy-heartedly.
How is it that we say “to die is gain,” with bold confidence, if the reality of death is so painful (especially those who were left behind)? So how do we reconcile such a theology (an understanding of eternity) with the reality of grieving (what we experience now)?
How do we reconcile such a theology of eternity with the reality of grieving we experience now?
the bitterness of death
I think especially when we are not the one experiencing the loss, it may be difficult for us to empathise with the mourning. We may very easily discount another’s pain and tell them not to feel sad on account of the hope of eternity we have in Christ, as though their emotions is a sign of distrust towards God.
But perhaps there is something that we need to let sink in before coming to such conclusions. For certainly, there is truth in the anguish that is felt, that is, because death was not part of the “good” that God had created. Death only befell mankind as a punishment when Adam and Eve sinned. So to understand that death is in itself a reminder of the problem of sin that touches all of humanity (for everyone will eventually taste death), I think as Christians we ought to grieve with others better.
“…there is truth in the anguish that is felt, that is, because death was not part of the “good” that God had created.“
We need to acknowledge that death is a painful reality, especially because it reflects that most grievous separation between God and man, following the first sin. Death ought not be the norm. It is a distortion of what good God had created at the beginning. There is something most certainly not right about death.
the sweetness of consolation
To be compassionate towards those who mourn, however, is not to be without hope. As we sit with those who are suffering in their losses, may we gently remind them of this hope that we have in Christ. Here is where the Gospel ought to shape the way we view our experiences in life, even when facing death.
For it is in this reality of death that we find grace to be real—where God did not stand silent, though He surely could, but instead, sent His Son to redeem the brokenness that man had imposed upon himself. It is in this Truth that we can stand firm in knowing that there is, at all, such a thing as eternal life. That this is the reason why we can say, “we’ll see her again.”
It is in this reality of death that we find grace to be real—where God did not stand silent…but instead, sent His Son to redeem the brokenness that man had imposed upon himself.
But until then, neither are we left alone. Because for such a trying and troubling time as this, is when we have been given the Comforter. May the Spirit be the one to console those who are mourning. For it is in darkness that light shines most brightly—may the comfort of the Spirit be all the sweeter through such a bitter time.
Christ said, it is done
How such comfort would come is not simply a vague matter either. Yes, the Holy Spirit may surely bestow upon us a certain peace that surpasses all understanding. And praise God for that. But as we affirm that the work of the Spirit ultimately points to Jesus, may we, along with the Spirit, testify to Christ, who Himself also suffered death.
If we could be so angry at death, perhaps we ought to pause and ponder upon how Jesus, who was God in the flesh, not deserving the punishment of death because He was sinless, took on death for the sake of mankind. Perhaps, we must feel the anguish of our separation from our loved one to utmost depths—and through it, learn to see, only a slight glimpse of the injustice that Christ bore when He said to the Father, “why have You forsaken Me?”
If we could be so angry at death, perhaps we ought to feel the anguish of the injustice that Christ bore when He said to the Father, “why have You forsaken Me?”
And after we have considered such an injustice, may we then see this death, this separation, finally, in light of the resurrection. For it had been revealed to us, that through the death of Christ, we have been purchased for God, and that through His resurrection, we have been reconciled to God.
So friends, may we be steadfast in holding unto this hope of reconciliation, when we, as redeemed children of God, are resurrected with Him on the last day (2 Corinthians 15). This is the hope that we have, even in such a bleak time as death. The phrase we often use “we will see her again,” is not spoken in vain. But rather, reflects this Truth that there will come a time, when at last, we will all be reconciled with Jesus once more, in our glorified, resurrected bodies.
the urgency of the Gospel
But what about the case of an unbelieving brother? Oh friends, this is also why we must grieve. For the grief becomes, not merely temporal, but eternal. And though we know that Christ is able to save all, we know that at the end of the day, there remains those who perish, rejecting the Savior even until their very last breath.
And here is where we are called to labor—tirelessly and with a deep sense of urgency. Oh, how too many of us are complacent. We call ourselves believers but we live as though the Truth we stand on is merely a fable.
So speak, dear Christian. Speak that you make known the name of Jesus! Not because He needs you to testify of Him, but because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God,”—and how He has kindly given you a testimony!
Work, dear Christian. Work to tell another of so great a salvation! Not because salvation depends on you, but because the Lord has assigned you to face this task that He had already prepared for you to walk in.
And so grieve, dear Christian. Grieve upon pondering the reality and bleakness of death! Not because it is hopeless, but because Christ had so taken on death that you may live—and so live for Him!