A close friend died this week.
Chris was only a year older than me, but complications after a surgery took him. It is hard to use the words “die” or “death” because we usually want to replace them with gentler phrases like “pass away” to prevent us from looking at the cold, hard implications of death. But I want to look at the truth square in the eye—however hard it may be—because I trust we will find something bright even in the midst of dark tragedies.
What do you say to someone who is grieving? What message do we preach to ourselves when we are hurting? I want to try to answer these questions, but first, allow me to tell a story about my friend Chris. When someone you know is mourning a death, ask him or her to tell you about the person he or she lost. It is helpful to share and also eases into a conversation in which you can direct your friend to lasting hope.
God has blessed me with a very colorful life so far, and when I think of my most peculiar memories, my buddy Chris was there with me. I first met him when we worked together at a woodsy church camp. One year, we heard there was a bear hanging around the camp, and we had to cancel some of the activities. When they were canceled, we planned our own. I had scored a leftover Winnie the Pooh costume from my high school drama teacher. We spray-painted it dark brown, and it made a surprisingly convincing bear. Several of us staged home video footage in which the staff stayed up late at the campfire and Chris and I pretended to hear a noise. The camera panned over to our friend (in costume) on his hands and knees, scurrying into the woods. It looked so real. Honestly, if someone from National Geographic were there, it would have fooled him.
The next day we started the next step of our plan. We knew how to get the word out the fastest—show a few campers the video and tell them not to tell anyone what they saw. The rumor spread like wildfire. Throughout the rest of the day dozens of campers came up to Chris, asking in a whisper to see the bear video. We built this up more and more and planted a few more sightings. We kept this going until the following year when a friend in the costume waved goodbye to the campers as they went home in their buses.
Chris knew me well, including my dark past, a bad home life, failed relationships, and struggles with sin. I knew him well and understood his insecurities, hurts, and well-intentioned mistakes. These things didn’t destroy our friendship. Because of our faith, they defined it. We loved each other like brothers, and we had a special, godly friendship where we could call each other out on our failings and celebrate our triumphs. Although it hurts that he is gone, reminiscing and sharing stories about our friendship has been a way to grieve and begin the healing process.
How do believers mourn? How are people of faith supposed to cope with death? I’ve heard people express guilt for mourning because they felt like they weren’t trusting God or they felt as if they were being selfish. I believe there is a better way.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica and said he didn’t want them to be uninformed about those that had died. He told the church they did not need to grieve as those who have no hope.
We can infer from this verse that there are two ways to grieve. We can mourn like those with no hope or we can grieve like those with hope.
Realize it is okay to grieve and remind your friends who have suffered loss to do so without guilt. It would benefit us all to know we are, in fact, meant to mourn and grieve for a season. We can see that even Jesus mourned when He was told about the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11).
God designed us to mourn. Why? When we mourn we are able to draw closer to God through Jesus Christ because He is our only hope.
The hope spoken about in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 isn’t just a hope that we will see our lost loved ones again, and it isn’t just a hope that they are in Heaven or in “a better place.” The hope that Paul discussed in his letter revolves around the source of the hope: Jesus. Our hope is Jesus Christ, His salvation, and His promises.
The Hardest of Truths
“What if the person who died wasn’t a believer?” Nothing I can write or encourage will be enough to fully comfort a person who is dealing with this issue. Christians believe Heaven and Hell are eternal, and consequently, overshadow the here and now in regard to significance. If someone you know is grieving the loss of a person who didn’t trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, be sensitive while reminding your friend that God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Direct him or her to the Word. I suggest the book of Psalms because it captures so many raw feelings but concludes ultimately with trusting God.
Perhaps you need to know this as well. Our God is a just God, but His love for His children knows no bounds. Ugly things happen, but He gives us hearts to learn and lean on Him more. We learn from those that die before us, and we hope in God even more.
Preach Truth in Everything
Psalm 42 ends by reminding us that though our hearts are suffering with anguish, we will hope in God and joyfully praise Him again. Preach this truth to others, and when needed, to yourself. The psalmist in Psalm 42 addressed his heart like a friend. We must learn to preach truth to our own hearts, especially in times of deep pain.
In the meantime, cry, preach the Word, give room for godly grief, encourage one another, embarrass yourself by showing love, hug, take nothing for granted, reflect, be humble, learn to cherish one another, mourn, laugh, and seek the Lord for comfort and salvation. He is our only hope.