There is no one on this earth who, if they live long enough, will not experience some type of grief—whether it’s the loss of a loved one, divorce, miscarriage, barrenness, friendships, permanent injuries, and so on. There is much joy in this life, but there is also deep sorrow. According to Tim Challies there is no sorrow deeper than the sorrow of loss. In his article, “How to Grieve Like a Christian,” on Challies.com he discusses the importance of understanding how Christians grieve.
Christ has Lordship over all of life, which includes grief. When you lose a fellow believer, there is a certain way Christians should grieve. Challies cites 1 Thessalonians 4:13:
“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.”
Paul doesn’t say "that you may not grieve" and end it there...he says "that you may not grieve as others who have no hope." [Emphasis added] So clearly it’s OK to grieve, but Christians will grieve differently than unbelievers. Even if someone you lose is a believer, there will still be a time of grief because death is tragic. We can rejoice knowing our fellow believer is with God, but we can grieve for our loss on this earth and for their family.
Paul says we should grieve with hope; there is a difference here between Christians who can grieve with hope and “others” who grieve without hope. Challies writes,
“Christians experience grief but without despair, sorrow but without defeat, sadness but without hopelessness. It’s true sorrow and true hope. These things don’t cancel out one another.”
So just because there is sorrow does not mean there is not also hope, and just because there is hope does not mean there will not be sorrow in this life. So how do Christians have hope in their grief?
First, Christians have hope because they know their fellow believer is with God now; secondly, Christians have hope because their grief is temporary. Our grief comes to an end when we depart this earth and join God, and all grief will come to an end when God returns to renew finally and fully this fallen world. Challies examines Paul’s words again:
“Paul proves this by pointing back in time, then pointing forward: “For since we believe that [in the past] Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will [in the future] bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).”
It is both interesting and amazing to note that our future hope is anchored in a past reality; Christ has already accomplished what needed to be done for all future hope. The gospel is a promise that what God said he would redeem has been redeemed, is being redeemed, and will be redeemed.
Jesus’ life is an example to those who believe—believers will be resurrected after their last breath on earth and join their heavenly Father. Without the resurrection of Christ there would be no hope and all grief would be hopeless. But Christ—through his life, death, and resurrection—has given us hope. It’s a hope we can live by, die by, rest assured in, and it’s also a hope we can share with others.
All believers who have fallen asleep will be with God, and on the last day the great promise will be fulfilled that Christ will return in glory to put an end to this broken world. On that day there will be no more tears—the last day of this current fallen world will be the last day of grief, darkness, and pain.
Let’s pick up with what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4, continuing with verses 15-18:
“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Our hope is in the Lord, the one who never leaves our side even at death. We rise just as Christ did in the presence of the Lord; upon rising from the dead, we will breathe our first breath of everlasting life and experience our first taste of eternal joy in the presence of God’s untamed holiness and glory. This is a day to hope for…this is a day to rejoice in for those who have departed before us…and this is a day to share with others that they might share in this hope also.
Believers who have departed this earth before us are not lying dead in the ground. Challies encourages, “Because Jesus rose again, they will rise again. Because Jesus conquered death, they will conquer death. Because Jesus lives, they live.”
Your grief may last many days, months, or years; the pain in your grief is real but it will not last forever. Because of Jesus, we can have hope, and because we have hope we know that our grief will be temporary. This is why Paul concludes with encouragement—not only should be we encouraged by the hope we have in Christ, we should encourage each other with this truth.
To read Tim Challies’ article in its entirety, please visit Challies.com.
Crosswalk Contributor Christina Patterson shares this encouragement in her article, How You Can Find Hope from the Darkest Psalm (Psalm 88):
“If God didn't stop loving Jesus on the cross then no matter what dark season you are in He has not, and will not stop loving you. And if He's promised to never leave you for forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6) please trust He's right in the darkness with you friend. He walks through the valley of the show of death with us (Psa 23:4). We may not always feel or hear God but we can always believe His promise is greater than our darkness.”
Image courtesy: ©Unsplash.com/Photo b yFrancisco Moreno
Publication date: September 21, 2017
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.