A Lesson on Grieving

With two deaths within a week, a lesson like this made sense.  For when someone you know and love dies, you suffer an enormous sense of loss.  It is like an amputation. Initially, there’s a sharp pain. Eventually, there’s healing—but there’s always a loss.

Grief is the expression of this loss, which someone can express in several ways.  Many people, when faced with a sudden death of one they love, will go into a kind of shock.  They retreat into themselves. They’re almost numb to external things. This is a natural response.  It’s when the heart and the soul withdraw to find healing and consolation.  Sometimes, we need to go through this, not stay there, to move toward relief regarding the loss.

Other people might become angry, at the person who’s left them or even angry at God.  God himself, of course, is big enough to take this.  In God’s consoling heart, there’s comfort even for those who are angry, and those who suffer and hurt, as well.  But this may become harmful by wanting to blame someone or something instead of coming to healthy acceptance.

 

Grieving Someone’s Death in Scripture

From the beginning of Scripture to the end, death is present and so are bereaved survivors.  The first significant account and reaction of a survivor of a traumatic loss is when Jacob thinks his son Joseph has been killed (Genesis 37:31-35).  Jacob experiences a grief that he felt would last until his death.  “He refused to be comforted.  ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’  So his father wept for him” (Genesis 37:35).

Jacob, Scripture records the mourning ritual of Jacob’s family (Genesis 50:1-14).

  • Jacob’s family returned to the place where Abraham and Isaac were buried.
  • Then they mourned for seven days and seven nights.

They grieved with the support of friends and family for seven days.  Nothing was abnormal about this practice either.  An entire week to mourn in our society would be considered a waste of time, but not so for God’s ancient people.

  • Though we may belittle the formalized rituals of grieving, what does Scripture show us?

 

The life of King David shows us the grief from a loss caused by death.  He lost his close friend, Jonathan, who died in battle alongside his father, King Saul (2 Samuel 31).  2 Samuel 1:17-27 records his lament for both Saul and Jonathan.

After committing adultery with Bathsheba, David had her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Samuel 11).  He later suffered the death of his newborn child from illness (2 Samuel 12:15-25).  He lost two other sons to death, Amnon and Absalom (2 Samuel 13:23-39, 18:1-18).  When David received news of Absalom’s death (who was trying to kill him and become king), this is how he responded.

The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept.  And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” [2 Samuel 18:33]

  • What does this reveal to us about the depth of grieving for God’s saints?

 

The book of Job is full of the traumatic experiences of a wealthy and righteous man (Job 1:1,3).  He experienced the death loved ones when all his children died at the same time (Job 1:18-19).  On that same day, he also lost all of his wealth (Job 1:13-17).  Shortly after those losses, Job lost his health when he became covered in painful sores on his entire body. (Job 2:7-8).

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground and cried out: “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 1:21).

  • What does Job accurately describe about life in a fallen world?

 

One example related to death is Jesus weeping after Lazarus died.  However, this crying (dakruo) is different from the weeping of Mary and the Jews (klaio).  His tears came forth because of the same unbelief that early prompted His irritation with Mary for blaming Him for Lazarus’ death (arriving too late).  A better example is Christ’s heart going out to a widow.

Read Luke 7:11-15

  • What is Luke emphasizing about the son being an “only son”? What are the implications of this?

 

  • What does Jesus’ sorrow for those grieving a loss caused by death show us about God?

 

What Scripture’s Words to Care for the Widows and Fatherless Tell Us

Read Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 24:19-22

Read James 1:27

  • Whom does God single out for specific care?

 

  • What does this show us about how God is concerned about the earlier loss for these people?

 

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5).

Although God does tell how the Church is to support those who are grieving a loss caused by death, He reveals His mindset, which we can use to guide us.

  • Widows and orphans are ones who would be grieving losses caused by death.
  • God is concerned and personally cares for them.
  • Therefore, His people should show the same concern and care for those who need support among them.

 

Grieving with Hope

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

  • How is Christian grief different?

 

  • What is the Christian hope?

 

  • What does the truth of the resurrection of the body provide for the Christian?

 

The Dark Side of our Clichés

 

  1. I know how you feel.
  • Possible internal response: No you don’t. You have no idea what I’m going through right now.
  1. I guess it was his time.
  • Possible internal response: I didn’t want it to be his time.
  1. If a lengthy illness: At least he no longer in pain.
  • Possible internal response: I wanted his suffering to be over by being cured, not dying.
  1. If a brief illness: At least he went fast.
  • Possible internal response: That’s just an even bigger bombshell dropped on my life.
  1. Oh, well, none of us lives forever.
  • Possible internal response: Though true, this isn’t helping me.
  1. We must not question God’s ways.
  • Possible internal response: Oh yeah? I’m questioning him right now.
  1. He looks so natural (in the casket).
  • Possible internal response: No he doesn’t. He looks like a wax dummy.
  1. If it is a woman who died: God needed another rose for His garden and picked her.
  • Possible internal response: There are plenty of other flowers. Why her?
  1. If there’s anything I can do for you, just call.
  • Possible internal response: Right now I’m overwhelmed with the decisions I need to make, and I should pick up the phone to talk to someone else? What are you going to do, bring my dead husband back?  When I am crying at 2:00 in the morning, do you really want to come over?  [In other words, don’t say this unless the person knows you mean it—and you do!]

 

10: This is not a funeral—it’s a victory celebration!

When a Christian dies, he is “out of danger” and may no longer be suffering.  But who could imagine saying a funeral is a “victory” when it’s the funeral of a child, a young mother, or someone struck down in the middle of a vigorous and productive life?

Even a Christian’s death is always a sign that sin has not yet fully been abolished by the Christ Jesus.  The last enemy has not yet put under His feet.  Death, which does not separate the dead person from the love of God in Christ, does separate the dead person from those who love him.  This is why we grieve.

Funerals are not victory celebrations—they are funerals.  If the Church cannot speak the truth but also wallows in the clichés of the culture, we are no longer the salt of the world we need to be.  Grief is still grief—but for the Christian, it comes wrapped in hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Only on the Last Day will death be swallowed up in victory, not the soul being in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:54).

If the resurrection of the body on the Last Day plays no functional role in someone’s faith, it will not show up in the words we speak to comfort someone who lost someone in death.  Though the soul is “with Christ” “in Paradise,” we still must speak forth God’s solution to sin and all its aftermath.  God’s solution for bodily death is bodily resurrection!

[On the Last Day,] the dead in Christ will rise first.   Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words. [1 Thessalonians 4:17-18]

What happens to the body (sickness, disease, and death) in our fallen state does not define us—the resurrection of the body does.  Though the redeeming act of Jesus encompasses and overcomes our guilt now, He still isn’t done.  His deeds will overturn the death of our bodies and restore all who trust in Him to their home in the new heavens and new earth.

 

So, What Can be Done?

Christian caregiving is to move beyond “working through” the stages of grief (which are still real).  Grieving for most people is a journey—a journey from the initial pain of parting toward healing and reconciliation with our loss.  The pain gradually subsides, but the loss remains.

Grief has many dimensions and is often unpredictable in its ebb and flow.  Family and friends are to become God’s gifts in helping others bear the pain of loss, which, at times, may seem unbearable.  People like this are valuable in dealing well with grief.

For those grieving

Seek out those who are here to help you.  A functional church should already provide these “connections” for those who mourn.  Though repetitive, telling the story of the death of those they love to family and trusted friends helps.  The repeated narration helps bring release and insight into the joy and sorrow of the parting, “closure.”

For those comforting

Lend a listening ear and heart for such telling and retelling.  Recognize the privilege of being entrusted with such a treasure.  When he or she is done speaking, speak compassionately in response, letting him know that you hear him.  But speak the words of consolation that are given to you from above.  Speak the words of God (not the shallow clichés).  This will become more “intuitive” as God’s theology shapes your worldview, not the culture of our clichés, which are rooted in our uncomfortableness with death.

In both word and deed, became the face of Jesus to others, who is our hope and consolation in every time of joy and sorrow.  “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

For all

Turn to the worship and the fellowship of the Church with the rich comfort of God’s Word and Sacrament for healing along the path of grief.  For Jesus abides with His people through these sacred means of grace.  Through these channels, he bestows the riches of His forgiveness, life, and salvation, which even those who grieve still need.

Uniquely and especially in Jesus’ Supper, we join with the faithful saints in heaven above.

You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant. [Hebrews 12:22-24]

In the New Covenant, the Supper, you dine with the saints in heaven because Christ is here and there, and in this, we are not entirely severed from the ones we love.

 

Speak Your Mind

*