How do followers of Jesus respond when we or those whom we love experience great grief and loss?
- We grieve and lament. It is important that we allow ourselves to grieve. Jesus wept before the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Isaiah called him the suffering servant of the Lord who was well-acquainted with grief. Our God weeps when we weep. When we are afflicted, he is afflicted (Isaiah 63:9). Thankfully, he is not aloof from our pain and heartache. Yet, the Apostle Paul teaches us that we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We have the hope and assurance of our eternal salvation. Right now, our loved ones who have gone on before us are where all of us what to be – in the presence of the Lord free from pain, suffering, sickness, sorrow, and death.
- We actively move towards the Lord in humble, grateful worship. Great grief leads many to doubt God’s goodness and to walk away from their faith, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Worship holds the key! Just two examples from the Old Testament suffice. After the catastrophic death of all ten of his children, “Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised‘” (Job 1:20-21).
Part of this response of worship is refusing to charge God with wrongdoing. It is perfectly okay to take your questions, your anger, your pain to the Lord, but we work hard to believe in the darkness what God has shone us in the light. It is said of Job in Job 1:22: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” In Job 2:9-10, His wife said to him, “’Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
The second example is King David: 2 Samuel 12: 15-16, 18-20 – “And the Lord caused the son of David and Bathsheba, Uriah’s widow, to be very sick. David prayed to God for the baby. David fasted and went into his house and stayed there, lying on the ground all night… on the seventh day the baby died. When David saw his servants whispering, he knew that the baby was dead. So he asked them, “Is the baby dead?” They answered, “Yes, he is dead.” 20 Then David got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship. After that, he went home and asked for something to eat. His servants gave him some food, and he ate.
- We take our sorrow, grief, and pain to the Lord. We first and foremost process our grief with Him and not with others. For Psalm 147:3 says that “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Andrew Murray writes in his book Raising Your Children for Christ, that “one of the things that hinders the blessing of affliction is that too much time is spent conversing with people and seeking comfort from their sympathy” rather than conversing with God in prayer and letting him pour into our hearts his healing balm. There is a time to bear each other’s burden, to weep with those who weep but make sure that you have had extended time with God in his presence before you endeavor to care for a grieving brother or sister in Christ.
- We take God at his Word that He is the blessed controller of all things. He ordained the days of our lives and those whom we love before one comes to be (Psalm 139:16). He not only governs the length of our lives, but also the content and events of each moment of every day. He is a providential Father who governs all of the actions of all people at all times. God says in his Word that people perish for lack of knowledge of Him (Hosea 4:6). Pray and ask the Lord to strengthen your capacity to trust Him as your providential Father and to know that his goodness and mercy follow you all of the days of your life until you dwell in his house forever!
- We are not surprised by but expect suffering and tribulation in this world. Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Suffering is a consequence of our union with Christ. If we are to share his glory, we must share his sufferings. If we are united to Christ, then we must be united to him in his death. This is the will of the Father to use hardships and suffering to conform us into the image of his Son. John Calvin writes: “It is horrible that those who call themselves Christians should be so brutalized, as to renounce Jesus Christ as soon as he displays his cross. How can you be a Christian and not expect a cross?”
- We do not probe into the secret councils of our God in endeavoring to know why specific tragic events befall devoted followers of Jesus. We know that God has a providential purpose in Ben’s death. We may know this side of heaven what part of it is. We may not know. He calls us all to trust Him that he is infinite in his wisdom, sovereign in his power, and perfect in his love. The Scripture writers are not inclined to answer why bad things happen to God’s people. The way they answer the question is by pointing to one thing: The cross of Jesus. Keep the cross at the forefront of your thinking and living and your heart will stay tender and soft towards the Lord. He suffered there in order that all suffering would end one day. He died there so that death would ultimately die!
- We share with anyone who will listen that our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). We share our gospel hope with everyone everywhere. We take personal risks so that others might be “born again to a living hope of resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). Parents and grandparents talk to our kids and grandkids about where they stand with Jesus Christ. Labor in prayer and action for their salvation. Nothing is more important!
- We allow the sufferings of this world to lift up our eyes from the visible to the invisible, from the temporal to the eternal. We actively work to set our minds on things above where Christ is!