How Should We Then Mourn?
We have walked through deep waters with our children recently. Our oldest son and his wife had been foster-parenting a special needs baby for five months. The child needed constant care, yet they joyfully gave themselves to her well-being. They grew to love the baby, and had decided to adopt her as their very own daughter. She had become their little girl. Then, during a visit to the emergency room for breathing problems, the little one died unexpectedly. The dreams and hopes of our children for her also died. They deeply grieve her death.
I never thought that I as a parent would walk with my children through such trials. The normal course of life is that the younger bury the older. Yet the death of a baby reminds us that something is not right with this world and that we groan, along with all of creation, for the fullness of redemption and the defeat of the last enemy, death itself.
It seems that we as evangelicals have a hard time knowing how to respond properly to such heartache. We call our funeral services, “Celebration of Life,” focusing our attention on how the individual lived, the new life he or she received in Christ, and the fullness of the life to come in the resurrection of the dead. This focus is good and proper. But I fear it often leads to overlooking the stark reality of death, the profound sense of emptiness it leaves in its wake, and the need to mourn deeply such heart-felt losses. I wonder if we need a biblical perspective of mourning that faces death head-on, that doesn’t sugar coat the harshness of reality, and that, at the same time, points us to Christ who is Victor over death.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we who know Christ should not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13). It does not say that we should not grieve. Rather that we should not grieve as those who have no hope grieve. Christians grieve the loss of loved ones. After the death of the first martyr recorded in the book of Acts, “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2).
Some think that Christians should not mourn, but should face the loss of a loved one—even a child—stoically, if not joyfully. I would counter that the Scriptures do not paint death in rosy colors, but see it as an implacable enemy that will only be defeated by the glorious return of Christ. Until that day, it remains an enemy, and we legitimately and rightly mourn the death of our loved ones. To smother our emotions under a blanket of supposed theological correctness is neither healthy nor Christ-honoring. After all, He sees the heart.
So we mourn and grieve with great sorrow. And, yet, not without hope! Jesus in His death and resurrection put death to death (2 Tim. 1:10). The enemy has been overcome and will be trampled in public humiliation. We mourn, but we mourn in hope. We weep, but we weep in hope. We grieve with heaving sobs of sorrow, but we grieve in hope.
And this hope is not simply some wishful thinking pointing to the future. No, it is a present reality. Our hope is a Person who rose from the dead and who lives today. Apart from Him is death and despair, but in Him is life and joy and hope. When grief flows over us like a tidal wave that threatens to sweep us away, this Hope is a firm anchor for our soul (Heb. 6:13).
How shall we then mourn? Mourn deeply your loss, focused not on the casket, but on Christ. Let go in hope. Live in hope. For one day our King, our Blessed Hope, will come again. The dead will be resurrected, all will be set right. And every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
(Note: I was influenced by Steven Curtis Chapman's song, With Hope.)
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