Greg Stokley | @gregstokley
On a rainy Friday night, an old friend of mine passed away.
He was in his prime, with a wife, a daughter, and a son on the way.
On a rainy night in April, God took him away.
It was sudden. It was tragic. The next day I sat with his parents, deep in grief and disoriented in loss. Sure, I was grieving too, but they had lost a son. Their world had been rocked to its very core. I couldn’t comprehend it. I always have words to say to someone. That day, words escaped me. Command over words is one of the gifts I have been blessed with, but on that day the words wouldn’t come.
I had grown up with this man in church. In high school, we were very close and navigated many challenges as young men of faith together. Yet, as life tends to do, we drifted apart after I moved away to college. His death still shook me and the tears I cried came from a place inside of me that I didn’t know existed. My pain was real, and I can do nothing but imagine the pain of his family. While many posted on Facebook about the tragedy, I felt it more appropriate to post the one passage that came to me when I heard the news:
“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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15
Read that verse and let that sink in. Death is largely discussed as a negative force, the force that everyone dreads. Not everyone may dread the end of their lives, but EVERYONE dreads grief. Sadly, both of these things come to us all.
Yet, as Christians, we must approach death and grieving differently. First of all, Paul doesn’t say “those who are dead.” He refers to the departed as “those who are asleep.” Why would he say it like that?
Because Christians awaken at Christ’s Second Coming.
The grave lost all its power at the cross. Jesus single-handedly defeated the one thing that man could never escape. Now, though it looks the same to us, we know that death is not the end for the Christian. We are raised with Christ to newness of life in Heaven. This is a fundamental belief of Christianity.
Yet there is something else I want to hone in on. Paul tells us not to grieve “as others do who have no hope.” He never says Christians shouldn’t grieve. Rather, our grief should look different. The rest of the world views death in a very pessimistic way. They see it as the ultimate end, the complete and total disintegration of life. So their tears contain not just pain and sorrow from loss, but also the bitterness of believing that there’s no hope for those who are gone.
Christians have a blessed hope. That blessed hope is found in Jesus Christ. The hope in the Christian’s grief is knowing that this end is not the end, but a transition. We will see our loved ones very soon, if not through our own departure then at the day of Christ’s returning.
I refuse to despair, because all my despair was nailed to a cross. I won’t let go of hope, for in the death of the body the hope of the Christian is achieved. I resist the notion of loss, because my friend isn’t lost. In fact, he’s found, and more alive than he’s ever been.
Friends, find encouragement in the fact that Christ died so we may live with him. Grieve, but not like the world. Grieve for time spent without them, but hope for the time you see them again. We are assured these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit will bring comfort and strength for the days we must endure without out loved ones. Yet soon and very soon, we shall all see the King.
Greg Stokley is a ginger from southern Alabama. He loves reading, writing, but not arithmetic. He serves in youth, college, teaching, and preaching ministries. An amateur theologian, he's not afraid to point out bad doctrine, with love of course. He also writes at his own blog, To Be Prophets and Priests. You can contact Greg on Twitter at @gregstokley.