Grieving as a Christian and a Misplaced Comma

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

Today’s reflection is a postscript to our recent study on Lamentations. Before we press on to our next book, I want to think with you a little longer about grieving.

As I have shared before, I grew up in a family, culture, and church that were reticent when it came to grieving. If ever somebody around me was sad, my job was to “cheer them up.” I can’t remember if anyone at church ever actually said grieving was sinful, but that was certainly implied. Many of my elders in church would have been influenced by the King James Version of 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” According to this translation, Paul wants us to “sorrow not.” As Christians who have hope, we should not be sad even when ones who are dear to us die.

The problem here is with the comma. To use the language of the New Living Translation, we have a choice: “so that you will not grieve, like people who have no hope” or “so that you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” The first says we should not grieve at all. The second says that we should not grieve like hopeless people. By implication, we are free to grieve, but in a new way because of our hope.

You’ll notice that the NLT, along with almost all modern translations, leaves the comma out. The translators of the KJV misinterpreted Paul’s meaning by adding a comma that was not suggested by the original Greek. Today, commentators and translators rightly understand Paul to be prohibiting hopeless grief, but allowing hopeful grief.

Hopeful grief! Now that sounds almost like a contradiction, doesn’t it? How can we grieve and be filled with hope at the same time? In tomorrow’s reflection, I’ll offer further thoughts about this. For now, I’d encourage you to think about how hope and grief might co-exist, and what might happen when they do.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How can we grieve and be filled with hope at the same time? How might hope affect our grief?

PRAYER: Gracious God, how I thank you for the freedom you give me to be a human being. I know that sounds silly, especially since you made me. But, sometimes it seems like the culture in which I live, including the Christian culture, seeks to deny my humanity...especially when it comes to the matter of grief. Thank you for the permission I receive from your Word when it comes to feeling sad and expressing my sorrow.

Yet, I know my grief should be shaped by the reality of your presence and faithfulness. Grieving, for a Christian, is gospel-shaped grieving. I need to learn more about this, Lord, so that I might live each moment as an expression of the good news. Teach me, Lord!

I pray today for my friends who are grieving, that they might not grieve hopelessly. Rather, may their grief be flavored with the confident hope you give them, through your Word and by your Spirit. In the name of Jesus, Lord and Savior, I pray. Amen.