Hopeful Grief: Is It Possible?
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
In yesterday’s reflection, we saw that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 does not mean, as the old KJV translation used to imply, that Christians should never grieve. Rather, this verse calls us not to grieve in the way other grieve, namely, without hope. In particular, when we lose a loved one to death, we are not to grieve as if they were dead and gone for eternity. Yes, the first round of their life has ended, but there is much more life to come.
Our grief over the death of those we love should be shaped by the fact of the resurrection of Jesus and its implications. As Paul writes elsewhere, Christ was raised from the dead as “the first of a great harvest of all who have die” (1 Cor 15:20). We who belong to Christ will one day be raised into new life, much as Jesus was raised (1 Cor 15:23).
So, when a brother or sister in Christ dies, we naturally and appropriately feel sad. If the one who died is very close to us, a spouse or a child, for example, our sorrow might be overwhelming. Nothing in Scripture suggests it is wrong to grieve in this way, and plenty shows that it is a normal part of life in this fallen world. Yet, even as grieve, we are comforted by the fact that our loved one has entered into a new experience of life. We are encouraged by the promise that we will one day be with those we love, even as we will be with the Lord. Thus, our grief takes on a hopeful shape.
Christian hope is not wishful thinking. When you read the word “hope” in Scripture, think of it as “confident expectation.” Why can we be confident? Because of what God has done in the past, supremely in raising Jesus from the dead. If God could turn the crucifixion of Christ into something redemptive, then he can indeed work all things together for good (Rom 8:28). We may not understand his ways or his timing. In fact, often we don’t. But we remain hopeful because God is faithful, and he will fulfill his promises and complete his good work in us and in the world.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced hopeful grief? When? What gave you hope? How did your hope shape your grief? If you have not had this experience, think about others you know who have experienced hopeful grief and answer as if you were in their shoes.
PRAYER: Almighty God, how I praise you for your majesty and strength, your mercy and grace. You broke the power of death when you raised Jesus from the grave. You opened up for us the hope of life beyond this life, not wishful thinking, but confidence expectation of the life of the future.
I pray today, Lord, for all who are grieving, especially for those of among my friends and colleagues at work who have lost loved ones. Help them by your Spirit to be reassured by the hope of the future. May the power and promise of the resurrection fill their hearts and refine their grief.
All praise be to you, O God, giver of life, victor over death. Amen.