A young lady in our flock came to me when her dad died suddenly. She asked me the best question I’ve been asked in my ministry to date: “How can I grieve in a way that honors God?” If only all Christians were mature enough to ask that caliber of question in the midst of an emotional maelstrom. I didn’t feel I could fob her off with, “Well, sister, I have no idea, since I’ve only lost my cat.” So, I leaned on the Scriptures instead of experience, and offered her five biblical thoughts to nudge her in the right direction. She said it was helpful. So I offer these to you as a starting point.
This list is by no means exhaustive; if you have any other balms to add to the cache, please feel free to do so in the comment section.
1. Resist the temptation to be angry at God.
It is natural for mourners to experience a sense of indignation, even rage, at the loss of a loved one. This, I believe, is our soul’s normal response to the Curse. We recognize deep within us that death is unnatural, and everything in us cries out for justice and for death to just stop its devastation. The problem is that most people are theologically ill-prepared for the onslaught of these emotions.
Their anger can at that time be misdirected. People whoa re smarting from the pangs of the fresh wounds of loss, may be tempted to mistakenly direct their indignation at God. They will often say, something like, “I’m so angry at God right now I can’t even pray.”
I say “tempted” because anger at God is always a sin.
James 1:20 “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
God never sins, and He never does anything unjust. Anger is a right response to an assault on God’s glory (as when Jesus cleansed the Temple). But to be angry at God is to aim your guns at a friend instead of the enemy. In a time of emotional trauma, believers sometimes need to be reminded to resist the temptation to think wrongly about their loving Savior.
2. Rest in God’s sovereignty.
When death comes in an especially unexpected way, for example in a sudden accident, or in cases where a young child is suddenly taken, there is always a sense that this was not meant to be. We are left reeling at the ambush of fate. This sensation of being caught off guard can sometimes lead us to feel as if God was also surprised. Since He didn’t provide us with warning or prep time, as when we are diagnosed with a terminal illness and supplied with a prognosis of time, we may feel as if the loss was incidental.
But the Bible assures us that God is absolutely sovereign over life and death. He is never caught off guard, He is never surprised at events; no, God ordains everything to the minutest detail. This is truth that brings peace and rest to a heart that is staggering under the dizzying sucker-punch of sudden loss.
Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
This is a precious and profound reality that needs to be impressed on the grieving heart.
3. Realize that it’s good to grieve.
In this day of Prozac and over-the-counter anti-depressant oblivion being proffered by an over-eager medical community, we need to be reminded that the pain felt in mourning is normal. Grief is not a condition that needs to be treated. Grief is not a disease that needs to be cured. Grief is the treatment, grief is the cure!
God equipped us with the emotion of sadness in the same way that He gave us physical pain. He wants us to feel when things are wrong so that we can do something about it. When you feel a sting in your skin you look and see a kamikaze bee injecting poison into you. You don’t take a pain killer to forget about the bee. You address the sting.
When His friend Lazarus died, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He was known as a “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus did not avoid sadness, because it’s not wrong to grieve.
To numb the pain only prolongs the recover period. I tell people I counsel in these dark times to cry their hearts out if that’s what they feel. Sometimes you just need a box of tissues, a tub of ice cream, a dark room, and some Enya in the background, so you can have a really good cry. The catharsis is a gift from God. And most people would testify that the more the allow themselves to weep, the less frequent, and less intense the breakdowns become, until eventually they are only very occasional.
4. Rejoice in the hope of reuniting.
This is a joy that can only be appreciated by Christians who have lost loved ones who are in Christ. One of the sweet joys of Heaven is not only seeing our Savior face to face, but also being reunited with our brothers and sisters in Christ who have crossed Jordan ahead of us.
1 Thess 4:13-14 “But 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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
We see King David comforted by this truth when his infant son died. He confidently asserted that “He cannot come back to me but I shall go to him” (2 Samuel 12:20-23).
This is the silver lining we must draw our friends’ attention toward as they are overshadowed by the storm clouds of loss.
5. Reach out to others.
Though it seems callous to tell a mourner to think of others rather than themselves, it is a unique opportunity for the hurting to be healed by ministering to others who are hurting too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 “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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. “
There is a sense in which the only people who can comfort those who have lost a child, or parent, or best friend, are those who have walked the same stark path through the arid valley of death. Everyone else offers platitude that sound trite in the ear of the grieving one. But comfort that stems from genuine empathy is an elixir of healing in what otherwise is a very lonely time.
One thing I’m sure all believers agree on is: without Christ in our lives, death would be impossible to face. I love the Apostle Paul’s triumphant reminder:
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. “ (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)