Grieve with Hope

1 Thessalonians 4.18

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tells us that he does not want us to grieve over death like those “who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

What does that mean for us?  Is a Christian not supposed to cry when a loved one dies?  Is a believer expected to ‘suck it up’ and trust that ‘everything happens for a reason’?  Are God’s children not allowed to admit to the pain of a broken heart?

It is not by mistake that the Bible records that Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35).  It is okay for Christians to cry.  Indeed, it is right for a Christian to grieve with a depth of sorrow over the hole that is pierced into one’s heart by the death of a loved one.

In their book When You Can’t Come Back, Dave & Jan Dravecky point out, “Katherine Patterson wrote the Newbery-Award-winning children’s book, Bridge to Terabithia, because of a loss that her son David suffered.  The loss was the death of his best friend, a girl named Lisa.  Katherine Patterson describes the effect of that loss on her son: ‘But he is not fully healed.  Perhaps he will never be, and I am beginning to believe that this is right.  How many people in their whole lifetimes have a friend who is to them what Lisa was to David?  When you have had such a gift, should you ever forget it?  Of course he will forget a little.  Even now he is making other friendships.  His life will go on, though hers could not.  And selfishly I want his pain to ease.  But how can I say that I want him to “get over it,” as though having loved and been loved were some sort of disease?  I want the joy of knowing Lisa and the sorrow of losing her to be a part of him and to shape him into growing levels of caring and understanding.’”

Earl Grollman adds, “Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness.  It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.  The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

When Paul encourages us not to grieve like those “who have no hope,” he is not advocating the absence of grief, but he is inviting us to a different kind of grief.  We can grieve with deep sorrow over the hole that is left in our heart by the death of the person we love, and we can grieve with confidence that the One who gave His life to conquer death is graciously caring for the one who is now out of our sight.  We can grieve with confidence that the One who rose from the dead has raised our loved one to new and eternal and glorious life.

In his book, Till Armageddon, Billy Graham tells the story of a widow and her son who lived in a miserable attic.  Years before, she had married against her parents’ wishes and had gone with her husband to live in a foreign land.  He had proved to be unfaithful and irresponsible.  After a few years, he deserted her without leaving any provision for her and the child.  It was with the utmost difficulty that she managed to scrape together the bare necessities of life.

The happiest times in the child’s life were when his mother took him in her arms and told him about her father’s house in the old country.  She told him of the grassy lawn, the noble trees, the wild flowers, the lovely pictures, and the delicious meals.  The child had never seen his grandfather’s home, but to him it was the most beautiful place in the world.  He longed for the chance to go there to live.

One day the mail carrier knocked at the attic door.  The mother recognized the handwriting on the letter he brought.  With trembling fingers, she broke the seal.  There was a check and a slip of paper with just two words, “Come home.”

Someday a similar experience will be ours—an experience shared by all who know Christ.  Someday a loving hand will be laid on our shoulder, and this brief message will be given: “Come home.”

A Christian can grieve with deep sorrow over the loss of a loved one from our lives and with the confidence and peace that our loved one has been invited to “Come home.”

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