Grief and the Christian

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We worship a big god. He is sovereign and powerful. We are in His hands, and nothing happens to us by chance. That’s good news. But in grief, if that is all we remember about God, it might actually make the pain worse, rather than better. It might leave us thinking, like Mary and Martha (John 11:21, 32), “Lord, you could have stopped this, and you purposely didn’t. Why?” God’s sovereignty might leave us more angry than comforted.

So we need to remember some other things, too.

Jesus Defeated Death

God hates death even more than we do. That’s part of the reason Jesus came. The wonderful news for us is that when Jesus broke death’s power by dying and rising from the dead, He did it not only for Himself but also for all who are united to Him (Heb. 2:14–15).

That means that those who die in Christ are more alive than ever and are experiencing life, joy, and glory beyond anything we can imagine, right now, in God’s very presence. It may seem that the Lord did not “heal” or “protect” them, but in fact He has healed and protected them in a much fuller, deeper, more permanent way.

When our oldest child went away to college, I expected to spend weeks feeling weepy from missing him. But he was so happy there, and I was so happy for him, that I found I wasn’t nearly as sad as I had expected. Similarly, when we know that our loved one is free, alive, and worshiping the Lord face-to-face with joy and abandon, it helps lessen our sadness.

We Grieve with Hope

First Thessalonians 4:13 says, “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.” Notice that the text does not say that we shouldn’t grieve, just that we should grieve differently than those who have no hope.

Even in the context of hope, we still grieve, and that is appropriate. Jesus Himself wept at His friend’s tomb. The Bible does not dismiss or minimize grief, and we shouldn’t underestimate its impact. But we grieve differently than those without hope.

Let’s say I don’t know Jesus, and I believe there is no further existence after death. Then if my husband dies, he really is lost to me. Every single thing that made him who he was—his quirky sense of humor, his passion for people (and basketball and popcorn), his warm smile, his open heart, all of it—is gone forever. That grief is a black hole.

But for those who die in Christ—and for those who grieve in Christ—the picture is very different.

The sorrow of missing loved ones is still incredibly painful, but the separation is only temporary. We will see them again. That is an entirely different picture.

God Is with Us

In the midst of grief, it is critical for us to remember that the God who is sovereign and mighty is also Immanuel—God with us.

When our grief is debilitating and it feels impossible to function, God does not sit aloof in heaven. He does not leave us to figure out how to handle grief on our own or how to cast about for resources to get through it. He walks every step of the journey with us.

Jesus came and lived as a human in this broken world. He gets it. He knows the tormenting thirst and weakness of life’s final hours. As our High Priest who fully understands our heartaches, He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), as does His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). He calls us friends (John 15:15) and promises that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), that His Spirit will dwell in us (John 14), and that He will give us peace (14:27; 16:33) and even joy (15:11; 16:22).

What we need most in the midst of grief is God Himself. He will meet us, give us Himself, fill the void left by our loved ones, warm our hearts, lift our burdens, and draw us into the sweet balm of fellowship with His Spirit. And as our Father tenderly swaddles us in His love, our love for Him will grow, our faith and trust will deepen, and even amid the heartache of grief we will praise Him with deep and true joy.

This is something the Lord does by His Spirit, through His Word, prayer, and the fellowship and love of His people. Those means of grace are not “tasks” for our to-do list—more burdens placed on our grief-weary shoulders. They are His love for us. If in your grief you struggle to pray or read the Bible, ask someone to pray for you and read the Bible to you. Grief is really, really hard. It hurts like crazy. But the Lord has broken death’s power, and therefore His children who have died are with Him. And He is with us. And before you know it, we will be together with Him and with them. That removes death’s sting—it really does. Even in the rending ache of grief, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can hang on to Jesus and grieve with the hope that His death and resurrection bought for us.

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