I was talking to several people this past week about grief. Each of them happened to be Christians and were talking about their grief journey almost apologetically. Though each relationship unique and grief journey different, the persons seemed to hold a belief that somehow because they were Christians navigating life without their loved one should not feel as hard – that the depth of their emotional heaviness should not be so low or endure for so long. Nothing could be further from the truth. From my theological and experiential perspective, few things can be more emotionally dangerous than to elevate the Christian above a normal human experience.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 is the scripture I believe sat at the root of this doctrinal belief, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” Listen! No matter how much we love God, how powerful a ministry position, or expansive the reach the Christian faith and the importance of this scripture serves as assurance not a substitution.
Context is always so important when we read and spend time with the Lord in His word. Paul wrote this letter because Thessalonian believers needed more teaching about what happens to Christians who die before Jesus’ return. Paul needed to address these important issues to bring assurance that death was not the end. When Jesus returns, He will bring deceased Christians with Him.
The reason we do not grieve as unbelievers is rooted in the knowledge and understanding that death is not the end. Nowhere does it say that Christians are not to grieve. With grief comes many different emotions and reality changes - loneliness, loss of joy, uncertainty, feelings of being unanchored, ungrounded, emotionally uprooted, disconnected and more. Truth is, all throughout the scriptures we learn of the deep anguish and grief Jesus went through himself. We learn about grief the disciples suffered, grief of Mary and Martha, and countless other forms of grief and loss such as the family caring for the demon-possessed boy. Grieving is a natural part of the human experience. There is no buffer to the process, but as Christians we are given assurance of redemption and resurrection.
To withhold grief is to withhold the fullness of experiencing the Lord’s comfort and faithfulness in our lowest places. It is to limit the power of experiencing the promised work of the Lord, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11) Grief is messy, unpredictable, and heavy, and the only way to navigate it is to go through it, entrusting the Lord with our sorrows.