Comforting the Grieving
This fall, I’ve had a rather larger than normal number of funerals, a fact I think I mentioned in a previous post. This morning was the latest, a distant elderly relative, whose husband died about two months ago. In February, they were in a rollover bus accident while vacationing in Florida. They never completely recovered, and she finally surrendered last Sunday.
Their eldest son gave both eulogies, and it of course has been a very hard 9-1/2 months for the family, but there was a big difference in his demeanor. Last time he was sad, but would smile when visiting with folks afterward. Today, there was none of that. In today’s eulogy, he spoke a lot about asking the why questions, and there was a very slight edge of frustration and anger in his voice, and in fact, he ended rather abruptly, as if he continued another word, he would say things he’d regret. My heart went out to him and the rest of the family—though they are Christians, they have been through Hell this year, and the strain was showing.
The minister immediately got up and gave a rather canned funeral sermon talking about Jesus being the Way, Truth, and Life, and how we have hope because of Christ. All true, but completely missing the point of the family’s struggle right here and now. They are angry, and rightfully so. They need someone to come alongside and help them through their anger to see why hope is not only possible, but reasonable.
As I observed the service, I began thinking about Jesus raising Lazarus. Even though He fully knew He was going to raise Lazarus, He grieved deeply with the family. Scripture says twice that He wept, and was ‘deeply moved,’ the expression meaning that He had a physical, visceral reaction to the magnitude of His grief. He did not treat it cavalierly, “Cheer up folks, I’ll raise Lazzy and all will be right with the world.” In Revelation, John states that “the final enemy to be defeated is death.”
Do you see that? Death is an enemy. It is something to fight and rage against, to grieve when it gets the upper hand. We are not made for death, but life. Death is an insult, an attack on our very being, and is to be opposed. To treat it as anything else is not dealing with reality. My relatives are right to be angry—their enemy has gained a victory over them, and it is not fair in any sense of the word. We must acknowledge that truth and not dismiss or minimize it. We must also not let things end there.
Paul tells us to grieve, but not without hope as the unbelievers do. Why? Because while death still acts and has power, it is only for a time, and its destruction is already in motion. By His resurrection, Christ removed the linchpin of Death’s authority, and it will completely fall away at the end. We have hope because Christ has defeated death, and grief until the defeat plays itself out.
Not only do we have the hope of the resurrection, but we have the comfort of God’s grieving with us. Not only with Lazarus do we see this, but also in Psalm 116:15, where the Word says, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” When something is precious, it is valued, and carries with it a connotation of tenderness, comfort, special attention. He is not distant, clucking at us for not seeing the big picture, telling us to get over it because it isn’t a big deal. He is there with us, agreeing with our pain and sharing in it.
This victory, and the comfort that accompanies it, are not just a product of the New Testament, but a central theme of the entire Bible. Job, the oldest book of the Bible, declares in chapter 19—
“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed,
yet in my body I will see God!
I will see him for myself.
Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.
I am overwhelmed at the thought!
From beginning to end, the Bible comes face to face with the reality of death in our lives. It never sugar coats it or puts whitewash over it—it even slams those that try to. God is brutal in His acknowledgment of our situation, yet comes alongside to share in the crap with us, and then adamantly declares that He will bring us through death, beyond it, and in the process destroy both its power and its very existence.
We are not alone. We will have an end to suffering. We will live as we know we are meant to.