Last week was rough, to say the least. There were several people I knew or knew of who befell strange and unexpected deaths within the course of just over a week (including one on Friday the 13th). From 23 to 67, no age or gender was spared as the angel of death touched each one of these souls while they slept! It was honestly too much of a collision with mortality, finality, and reality to bear.
In the wake of all of that loss of life, I found myself conflicted as to what was appropriate to feel as a Christian. I experienced a grand mixture of emotions, from despair for my friends whose lives would be forever changed by these deaths and sorrow for the people who would never finish the plans they’d made, to even joy over the fact that each one who died believed in Christ and would be resting in Him with no more pain. But the sadness and sorrow confused me because as Christians, for those who die in Christ, death should be a celebration. My favorite apostle, Paul, for one, spoke of death as a joyous occasion that he longed for. In fact, Paul wrestled with his desire to die to this world and be with Christ and the fact that his work was still undone on earth! He says in Philippians 1:21-26:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Paul gives us this example of how we ought to feel about death — for ourselves and others in Christ — that life on this earth ought to be a reluctance we accept because God has more souls for us to win for Him while we are here. All the while we should long to be home with our Father where there is no more crying, dying, destruction, war, hurt, or pain. But how does this square with the reality that we are down here where there is crying, dying, destruction, war, hurt, and pain? This is a part of what it means to be alive in this sinful world. Are we allowed to feel those feelings?
Yes, it is extremely comforting to know that our loved ones are safe in the arms of Christ. But I find it just as comforting to know that it is o.k. to mourn your losses, as well. After all, Paul says as much in the very next chapter! Philippians 2:25-27:
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.
Even knowing how wonderful it would be to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, Paul describes his brother Epaphroditus’ recovery as “mercy” from God that spared Paul “sorrow upon sorrow.” Paul acknowledges that he would’ve been filled with immeasurable sadness if he were to lose his brother to that illness, not so much because of his brother’s fate — Ephroditus would no longer have been in pain — but because of the absence his brother’s death would have left in Paul’s life.
What is even more beautiful is the validation we get through the humanity of Christ Himself in John 11:33-36 when Christ hears about the death of Lazarus from Mary and Martha:
When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid [Lazarus]?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Of course Christ did not weep for Lazarus. Lazarus was resting in God, and besides, Christ knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead in a matter of minutes! But even still, Christ took time to feel the loss of Lazarus, and He was filled with sorrow and compassion for his loved ones who were so hurt by the loss of Lazarus, and He wept for them!
I find the actions of Christ and Paul in times of death to be so comforting. Yes, we know that we are not “to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope,” because we know that those who die in Christ we will see again. But to know that God allows us to be human, to feel our losses; to know that He has equipped us with tear ducts and water to release our pain and suffering; and to know that Christ Himself was allowed to be fully human, even as He was fully God, provides the kind of comfort in times of unbearable sadness that only God could have prearranged.
So, feel sad because of your losses and your broken plans. Cry for them. Process them. Take as long as you need, but don’t drown in them as those with no hope do. As we know: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 16:9) Be comforted by the fact that God IS God alone. He knows the future and He knows the answers that we don’t understand. He may never while we live explain Himself to us, but trust in the fact that His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us. We each have a predestined role to play on this earth, and death should remind us to stay focused on our job, because none of us have come to stay.
As you press forward through grief, remember: Let no man, woman, nor child be your everything — people perish, but God is God forever and will never leave you nor forsake you; Rest, regroup, recover, and be restored by God as Elijah was in 1 Kings 19 after being suicidal and depressed; Surround yourself with loved ones to comfort you and encourage you in the Lord; And let Christ do just what He promised you He’d do:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Is anyone else dealing with grief / in need of prayer in the area of loss and trusting God’s perfect plan? Where are you finding comfort, and how can we pray for you?