“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” — 1 Thes 4:13
A friend of mine, I’ll call her Grace, recently posted online describing a bout of profound grief. Grace’s mother passed away a few years ago and she still gets hit with moments of overwhelming grief. In this particular moment, she had had a dream about her mother — one of those dreams that feels very real. She woke up and, realizing that it was just a dream, sunk into a sadness that took her breath away. In her post, she blamed Satan for taunting her. Grace is a deeply convicted Christian who lives each day with the purpose of drawing closer to God. She has a passion for her faith that just leaves me in awe. In her post, she said that she felt that the more she strives to grow closer to God, the more she feels Satan goes after her. And this was just one more of his dirty tricks.
I think a lot about death. Not in a morbid or pessimistic way, I just think about the reality of it. I’ve felt for a long time that death is the single greatest challenge to our faith. We talk about it and even sing about it. We have all the sayings to make us feel better about it (“She’s in a better place!”, “Don’t you know there will be a party in Heaven when he gets there!”, “I can’t wait to walk on those streets of gold!”). The reality, though, is that most of us are terrified of dying, and we can’t wrap our heads, or hearts, around it when someone we love dies. We just don’t know what to do with it. Death is very much an inescapable part of our human experience.
Know this: Death was not part of the original Plan. God didn’t want it this way. We did this. And we’re stuck with it.
But — and this is huge — death isn’t the end! Again, we know this and we say it out loud. But truly knowing it in the depth of our being… well, that’s probably the most difficult thing on Earth to do.
Something you should know about me — and you’ll see this the more you get to know me through my writing — is that I sometimes have an unconventional way of seeing things in the Gospels. Take, for example, the story of Lazarus. John 11:35 is such a familiar verse: “Jesus wept“. Every homily or sermon I’ve ever heard on this passage explains Jesus’ weeping as a moment where we see the humanity of Jesus: It’s in His grief for His friend that He is brought to tears. Well, I just don’t buy it. If you read the passage leading up to it, you see Jesus, over and over, explaining that Lazarus isn’t gone for good, that this is all happening to show the glory of God — just wait! But the crowd, over and over, is convinced that this is the end for Lazarus — that he is… gone. And then, Jesus weeps. I think He weeps because He sees the profound stronghold death has on people. That they (we) are so deeply convinced that it is the absolute end. And not even He can change their minds. The crowd grieves without hope.
But, we, as St. Paul says, do “not grieve as others who have no hope.” Our grief acknowledges the loss, but, with faith, gives rise to hope. Years ago, I heard something beautiful about mourning. (I have searched for the source, but cannot find it. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has assimilated several ideas into this one in my head!) I will do my best to paraphrase it here:
When someone we love dies, something deep in our soul resonates that this is not how things were meant to be. We know, deep in the recesses of our being, that death was not supposed to be a part of life. We’re agitated by it. So much so, that we ache. But something else in our soul reminds us that death is not the end — that there is life beyond what we can see. And even more hopeful — we know that, one day, death will no longer be a part of it. Our longing for that day is such that we ache for that as well! And so, we grieve and mourn, knowing that this wasn’t part of the plan, and that one day it will be removed from our experience. And to the extent that we find that hope, when we mourn, we worship!
I called Grace and we talked for quite a while. I told her that I didn’t think Satan was taunting her. (I really don’t like to give him credit for anything that’s not his to take.) No, I believe that the closer Grace gets to God, the more deeply she feels the separation, the more she desires that day when all brokenness will be gone, the more she hates death and the distance it causes her to feel between her and her mother. To put it another way — she aches for God. I don’t think that’s a Satan thing — I think that’s a God thing!
So, perhaps you, too, find yourself feeling the deep loss of someone you love who has passed away. Grieve! Let yourself mourn. But do so with hope! Hope that one day the original Plan will be restored! And know that your mourning is, in a very real sense, worship of the One who longs for us to live with Him in eternity!