By Kirk Bokenkamp
Earlier this year, my family was faced with death very close to home as my wife’s uncle died unexpectedly. With the anticipation of Christmas upon us, we are reminded of his passing and are reliving a time of grieving, difficulty, and regret. I am faced with the question of how should the Christian mourn the loss of a loved one? How can I, in the face of the most gut-wrenching and depressing moments in life, bring glory to the Sovereign Most High?
Many well-meaning brothers and sisters would share the following, “We should not sorrow as the world sorrows in this death because we know God is in control.” This response is a direct reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:13, where Paul exhorts the church in Thessalonica to, “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” As with all wisdom that comes from the word of God, it is powerful and fully able to transform the heart and mind as described in Hebrews 4:12, For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And yet, if we as Christians share only this verse and say, “I will be praying”, we may miss a great opportunity to not only comfort our brother or sister, but to help them work through the grieving process. Their ability to worship the Sovereign Lord who brought this death could be impaired because they feel as though it is not appropriate to grieve, as it may show doubt in the God who decreed the end of their loved one’s life. As Christians, we need to help reconcile brothers and sisters to the Savior and encourage them to walk with the One who was and is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces (Isaiah 53:3a)
On the other hand, I have also heard it said that to weep and mourn is natural, as Jesus wept, and God does not mind if I question His decision to take one’s life because it is simply part of the grieving process. Perhaps you are familiar with the Kubler-Ross model of grieving which describes reactions or emotions experienced by those who survive the death of a loved one. Here are the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As fallen people, we may experience some or all of these stages in one form or another. However, the fact that we may experience feelings of anger toward God, does not make them legitimate. May we strive to counsel our fellow saints to honor the Sovereign God who decides our time and in all circumstances remains to be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6b).
To summarize these two views, one acknowledges the sovereignty of God, but denies my humanity; the grieving I do experience. The other, elevates my feelings and reactions of my loss above the goodness of God and the wisdom of His Sovereign control. One leans more toward a lifeless and cold response of religiosity, while the other leans more in the direction of rebellion toward God and enslavement to the flesh. I do not believe either response honors God. However, praise be to God, in His all-sufficient Word, there is wisdom, direction, and transformation by the power of His Holy Spirit.
One of the most comforting passages I have read pertaining to our family’s loss is Job 1, where Satan requests of God [which shows God’s control of every aspect of His creation] to test the faithfulness of Job and his request is granted by God. As we read on, Job loses almost everything he has in this world, including the death of his seven sons and three daughters; all in one day! Can you imagine how severe and painful the anguish experienced by Job must have been? But look at his response:
Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (22) In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
There are three things we can learn from Job, whom God described as blameless and upright, in this situation. First, we see Job did grieve as he tore his robe and shaved his head; he was cut to the heart by this incredibly tragic loss. Second, he fell on the ground and worshiped. You may ask how this was possible, but the following verse teaches us what Job was preaching to his soul, The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job, in the midst of extreme anguish, reminded himself that everything and every person belongs to God and not us. Any time we have with a loved one is an incredible blessing and gift. When that earthly time has come to a close, we submit ourselves to the rule of Jesus Christ, Who owns us because He purchased us by His blood and has shown us immeasurable love. When you have this perspective, you can mourn in a way that glorifies God, because in the midst of your tears, you can do what Job did and not sin or charge God with wrong.
Let us as Christians weep and mourn heartily over the loss of our loved ones, but through the process not charge God with wrong, but by His grace, worship Him for His goodness, His kindness, and His perfect will made manifest in our lives.