[I normally only share one blog post per week. But this morning my wife and I attended the funeral of a sweet young man. Some of the thoughts shared during his service reminded me of this article that I wrote less than 3 months after the death of our son, Whitaker Troy, back in 2013.]
1 Thess. 4:13 - "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."
I'm sure others have figured this out long before me, but personal experience seems to bring old truths into new focus. Some (I) may have read the above passage in 1 Thess. and understood it to mean that the death of loved ones would not grieve us because of our faith in Christ and our anticipation of his second coming. However, that is NOT what the verse says. What the Spirit says through Paul is that we will grieve, but our grief will be different than non-believers. It means we will still grieve the separation we experience at the death of those we love, but our focus as a believer transcends the loss to look forward to the day when we will be united together at Christ's second coming.
Consider Abraham, the OT man of faith. In Gen. 22 we read of God testing Abraham's faith by commanding the sacrifice of Isaac, the son of promise. We have all read with wonder as Abraham began to ascend the mountain and told his servant that he and his son would both return from worshipping God. Or when, in response to Isaac's question about what they would offer on the altar, Abraham told him that God would provide. We know from Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham believed God to be capable of reviving Isaac from the dead if it came to that. But then in Gen. 23:1-2 Abraham's beloved wife, Sarah, dies. And Abraham, the man who believed in a living God, the man who believed God could restore the dead to life, mourns and weeps over the loss of his lifelong spouse.
Or consider our Lord in the NT. In the well-known passage of Luke 11 Jesus received the news that Lazarus was sick and confidently told his disciples that "this illness does not lead to death" because he knew that he would raise him from the dead. Despite all of that, when the Son of God witnessed the people he loved mourning the loss of their loved one, and saw the tomb that held the lifeless body of his friend, the text famously and succinctly reads, "Jesus wept" (Jn. 11:35).
So how are we to harmonize these examples with what the Spirit reveals in 1 Thess. 4:13? Simply this, that death is a separation not just of the soul from the body, but of loved ones from each other. And even though we have been blessed with the promise of a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15) and the encouragement of being reunited with those who have gone before us at the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:14-18), until that day we go through the difficult adjustment of learning to live with loss. We walk into rooms expecting to see our loved ones. We listen for their voice and mistakenly think we hear them at night. We long to hold them in our arms again. And in those moments when the loss is most acute, tears will fall. What Abraham and Christ show us by their example is that it is right and appropriate and normal to grieve our loss. What 1 Thess. 4:13 teaches is that those who have suffered loss WILL grieve, but in praise to God their grief is tempered by the hope Christ gives!
If you are living and serving with brothers and sisters who have experienced a loss, it's difficult to always know what to say or do. It may be helpful to remember Paul's exhortation in Rom. 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
If you are someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, know that it is appropriate and good to mourn the loss! Abraham did. So did Jesus! But as God leads you through the sorrow of your loss, make sure not to let your grief over the separation overshadow the incredible hope Jesus gives you of the eternal reunion we confidently wait for. Remember that the hope of that reunion is only possible because God the Father experienced the death of His Son. Remember that after the day of Christ's return no one will ever experience the pain of death's separation again! "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting" (1 Cor. 15:54-55)?
(Originally posted 6/7/13; Edited on 7/22/15)