I ran across a quote the other day that speaks volumes: “For those who love life, immortality is no consolation in death” – Simone de Beauvoir. We understand, as Christians, that death has lost its ultimate power over us. We know, from Scripture, that our immortal soul, once redeemed by Jesus, will spend eternity with Him. We are even told that it will be reunited with a new body in heaven. Yet, we still grieve over the death of a loved one. This is appropriate on two levels.
First, if the one we have lost was not a believer in Jesus Christ, we grieve because they are truly gone. There is no meeting them again in the afterlife. Their death, for all intents and purposes, is final for us. That relationship we had with them has been sundered forever. Truly, it is appropriate to grieve for them.
Second, even if the person was a believer, even with the hope we have of being reunited with them in heaven, it is appropriate to grieve the loss. For now, the fellowship has been broken, Things are not the same. While we do not grieve as those who have no hope this does not mean we cannot or should not grieve. Death is an intruder, an interloper. It is not without reason the New Testament calls it “the last enemy.”
We grieve over loss because we have been cut off, at least temporarily, from the ones we love. For instance, we may be glad that a child is doing well at college across the country. We expectantly look forward to Christmas break when we will see them again but it doesn’t mute the emptiness of their bedroom we pass everyday. Death magnifies those feelings because we cannot call them on the phone and hear their voice like we can one separated only by distance.
One of the tragedies of our society, as well as today’s church, is not allowing people to adequately grieve. Because we are embarrassed for them or because we have not processed our own grief, we do not allow them to fully grieve and begin the road to healing. When Lazarus died, it wasn’t just Mary and Martha that mourned. Jesus did too. He knew He could resurrect Lazarus. He knew He was going to resurrect Lazarus and yet He still grieved. Knowing that it was okay for our Lord to grieve should be good enough for allowing His children to grieve also. It is a natural response to loss that must be allowed and there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, nor is there a time frame after which it is not allowable. The only restriction placed on grieving in the Bible is that we are not to grieve without hope, as a pagan might.
Modern psychology doesn’t help either. Since Freud’s time it has looked upon grief as a disease, as though it were a sickness like mumps or chicken pox, easily cured with the right combination of drugs or therapies. Only when we accept that for now, until a new heaven and earth are made by God, that suffering and loss are a normal part of our existence and grief is a normal reaction to loss, will we be able to help individuals cope with grief. We will sit with them, cry with them, wonder why with them and listen to their pain without offering stupid, meaningless platitudes. In short, we will experience their life with them and, in doing so, enrich both ours and theirs.
I leave you with this quote: “We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believer to suffer grief. Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Though grief may reach to the root of our souls it must not result in bitterness. Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness.” R.C. Sproul, The Dark Night of the Soul, Tabletalk, March 2008