My dear, sweet friend, Lorrie, passed away a few weeks ago, and that is something I am not okay with. I will never be okay with it. Not because she had more life to live here on earth, though she did, nor because there isn’t anything beyond this life, because there is, but because death exists. Death exists and it shouldn’t.
When God created us, he didn’t create us to die. He created us to live with him. He created us to enjoy the most full, satisfied, peaceful existence possible, and he created that to be everlasting. But he gave us a choice: choose life and love with him, or choose our own way with death and destruction at its heels. We chose wrong. And now because of our sin, our error, people die. Lorrie died. She shouldn’t have died. It wasn’t right.
But that is exactly why God sent his son, Jesus, to defeat death, by living a perfect, sinless life and then dying in the place of all the sinners, overcoming sin, paying the penalty for our sin, which is death, and fulfilling the requirements of the law the way we never could. For his glory, he made a way for us to live again as he intended: eternally in his presence.
Still, death exists. This doesn’t mean Jesus’ death was insufficient. His death was more than enough. However, we are still working out the effects of his sacrifice. The world has been given the grace of God, but now it must take effect. This means that sin is being uprooted still, a process that will continue until Jesus returns to send Satan into the fiery pit of hell and to call the righteous to himself, those who believed in him and called upon his name (Hebrews 9:28). My friend, Lorrie, is among those, so I should rejoice.
But I don’t feel like rejoicing. She was here, with her family and friends, she lived out the gospel, she was wonderful, and I didn’t want her to leave. Selfishly, I wanted her to stay because then I wouldn’t feel the guilt of having not called enough, not prayed enough, not cared enough. God says all things work for the good of those who love him, he means it (Rom. 8:28), but I want her not to be gone.
But she is, and I hate it. It isn’t right. Death isn’t right, and we should grieve. Jesus did. Lazarus had been dead four days, his family was grieving, and instead of reassuring everyone that everything was fine, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead in just a short time, but he wept anyway because death is not right. It isn’t what God wants for us, and it does not please him. It’s a reminder of the sin in the world. However, Jesus knew he was stronger than death, which is why he could go forth and call Lazarus from the grave. Because of Christ’s strength and sacrifice we can rejoice and have peace that death is not the end, and it cannot hold those who believe in him.
But I think it pleases God when we grieve death, even the death of a believer, because it is a reminder that the fight isn’t over. Death reminds us that sin is still in the world and that we are not yet living the fullness of our salvation, though we are saved and enjoy the benefits of it continually. These benefits of salvation include peace, joy, love, and hope, as well as so many other blessings. Matthew 5:4 (NIV) says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Grief isn’t something we should shun, but something we should embrace. We should grieve all the more over the death of an unbeliever, because it is a reminder that there are those who choose to live without God, and some who have never heard of him, who cannot call upon his name to be saved because they do not know it. Yet that should not discourage us. It should grieve us, but that grief should motivate us to share the story of the cross and fight for truth and justice in the world.
The good news is that though we grieve, there is hope in Christ Jesus, our salvation. We grieve over sin in the world, but we do not have to grieve forever, because, when it comes to sin and death, we are victorious over sin in Christ, and one day we will be restored. We will be united in Christ. Every tear will be wiped way. Our pain and suffering will be no more. We will be made white as snow. We will enter into the presence of God and will be accepted, delighted in, loved. We will have no cause for grief, and death will never touch us. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 ESV).
But this doesn’t negate the pain now. I spent a lot of years feeling guilty because I mourned although I knew the promises of hope, so I shoved the grief down, pretending it didn’t exist. My heart grew dark and bitter, until it was hardened to love out of the fear of loss and inadequacy. I wouldn’t accept God’s love because I felt unworthy of it. And I am, and we all are. No one can earn salvation.
But I let the knowledge of my unworthiness convince me that I was too far gone for God’s love. I was too untrusting, ungrateful, unbelieving, because I knew about salvation but couldn’t act like that made everything okay. I knew the facts, and yet I felt pain; I believed that therefore, I must not really have been a child of God, because God’s children are given faith (Eph. 2:8). Yet grieving isn’t the same as unbelief. Unbelief despairs that there is no hope; grief based in hope cries because hope promises better. Grief still believes that the promises will be fulfilled, but it acknowledges that we are still waiting for Christ to return and reconcile all things to himself (Colossians 1:20).
We cannot tell a person how to grieve; only that grief is permissible, even good. Christ’s death on the cross allows us to grieve because it is our source of hope; otherwise, we could only suffer and despair that life is cruel and capricious. Because of the freedom and hope of the cross, we can lament the pain of this world in whatever way we need to. We can share the deepest sorrows of our hearts with each other when we feel angry, alone, afraid, cheated. Staying in those emotions would turn into despair, but we can communicate those things to each other and to God because they are valid. The Psalms are full of grieving, and full of angry questions towards God, and people of God wrote those psalms. Grieving, however unfaithful it may seem, is allowed, and even encouraged in scripture. The interesting thing about these psalms is that they were communal, meant to express individual and community lament. They encouraged grieving with others, and they expressed that grief towards God, knowing he was their hope and salvation.
Grief doesn’t ignore hope, but it does face the pain. Often in our pleasure-seeking culture, we want to medicate the grievers with our happy sentiments meant to lift the spirits and get things moving again. Grief is uncomfortable; it is slow, and sickening, and sad. It confronts sin and death, things we would rather ignore. He’s in a better place. Or She’s with Jesus now. We often cling to these phrases as life preservers in the uncharted waters of comforting someone experiencing loss because they don’t know what to say. Believers know these phrases, and the truth they contain, but repeating them like a mantra won’t make the loss disappear, and it won’t make the pain any easier to bear. These statements, when uninvited, can come across as belittling the griever’s struggle or belittling their faith. These helpful reminders can then lead to shame, guilt, and hiding.
I remember feeling pathetic for still suffering over my father’s death, feeling inadequate, unworthy, and guilty because those statements weren’t enough to quell the storming sadness, the gasping, aching loneliness that tugged at my mind even though those around me spoke of hope. It took years for me to learn that I had a right and an obligation to grieve. My dear friend Lorrie played a huge role in that discovery, and later, her sickness and death would serve as a direct application for everything she taught me. The irony is not lost on me.
Community comes alongside one who grieves. It mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Our hope allows us to confidently acknowledge the pain in this world because we know it will not last, and it does not defeat us. The triumphant believers can face loss knowing they have already won.
If you are grieving, then grieve knowing you are safe in the person and work of Christ because he has defeated death and given us the promise of eternal life with him, and because your grief does not disqualify you from life with him. Grieve freely, grieve passionately, and grieve for as long as you need. His sacrifice is sufficient for you, and your grief does not lessen your faith in him or your place in his fold. God has said he will turn our mourning into gladness (Jer. 31:13), but he did not say it would be overnight.
If you know someone grieving, come alongside his or her grief in whatever ways you can. Follow your strengths. If you are not an emotional person, then offer to cook meals, clean, run errands, etc. If empathy is your strong suit, offer your heart and your time. But above all, pray that God may be glorified in the grief and that the grieving does not turn to despair. Not only are our prayers heard by God, they do much to change our own hearts to make them align with God’s plan for us. He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:12 NIV), and he will be glorified through his people.