|Series Theme: Questions of Eternity|
Title: 4. When a Loved One Dies
Practical Considerations to Cope with Grief
On the first three “Eternity Pages” we have considered the possibility of
Each of these pages has sought to provide a scriptural basis for the particular beliefs. This page is a far more pastoral page, helping us cope with the deaths of loved ones.
The reality is that death is not easy to face or cope with. When we have lost a loved one, we often find in the midst of the pain a whole variety of questions haunting us. To face the difficulties we're first going to examine an account in the Old Testament of the Bible.
2. An Unusual Account
You will find this story in 2 Samuel 12:15-20. It's a difficult story to face but we should never be afraid to face the difficulties of the Bible.
It's a story about King David who the Bible describes as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14 & Acts 13:22 ). Now he's the only man in the Bible described like that which makes him pretty special. It means that he was a man who went all out for God and shared God's heart.
Having said that, he was very human and sometimes got it wrong – very wrong! On this occasion his eyes fell on a beautiful woman who he wanted for himself. He took her and slept with her and she became pregnant by him. What made it worse was that her husband was in David's army and was away fighting for him. To cover this up, David had his army commander put this man into the thick of the fighting where he was killed.
It looked like David had got away with it but no, God knew and sent His prophet, Nathan, to challenge David over it. Once he was challenged David faced his sin and repented of it. Nathan declares him forgiven but says he will have to live with the consequences of his sin.
At the time we join the story in the verses above, the baby has been born and David has taken the woman as his wife. It looks like they will live happily ever after. Not quite!
3. The Death of an Innocent One
In 2 Sam 12:15 we read “the Lord struck the child… and he became ill”. Eventually, after 7 days, the child dies in v.18. Why did this child die? What had IT done wrong? Nothing. Does God kill every child that dies prematurely?
No, but at least He is responsible for letting them die – He COULD have stepped in and healed them.
Whether He did it or allowed it is really immaterial – the truth is that He could have stopped the child dying. Let's not be afraid to confront that truth!
Why did that child in the womb die? Why did that little baby only just born die? Why did that five year old die? Why did that 12 year old die?
There seems no reason so “Lord why didn't you step in?” And there is silence from heaven. Well no, there is only silence when our grief shuts our ears to the quiet whispers from God.
So why doesn't He act?
Well we can make some suggestions but suggestions don't help when you are in pain – but we need to make them nevertheless, for those still with the questions.
When the pain has lessened you might be open to consider the logic that says, “What do you want God to do?”
“Step in and heal my child.”
“And his child and her child and their older son and that older man?”
When is it ‘all right' for someone to die prematurely? Indeed, what does ‘prematurely' mean?
If we get God to stop people dying from illness, should we also expect Him to stop every other kind of evil on the earth – including our anger, our bad actions, as minor as we may think they are. Where should He draw the line? Until we are all nicely cushioned and free from hurt, we'll never agree the line.
And there we realise the dilemma – if we took away every possibility of pain, we'd take away human existence as we know it – our body would have to be insensitive and so much pleasure that we experience would have to be taken away because pleasure is simply the opposite end of the sensitivity spectrum from pain.
That's logic! But as we said, when we're in pain, logic is irrelevant! So what help is there?
David seems to have a strange response when he's told the baby has died. He gets cleaned up, puts on his best clothes and goes and worships God.
Hullo? What about grieving David? Worship? How? Why?
Well David was a Jew and they had a history. In that history was the book of Job, thought by some to be the oldest book in the Bible. Job suffered loss and his response was “Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has take away; may the name of the Lord be praised ” (Job 1:21)
You may have heard it perhaps as it became, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes. Blessed be His Name”
Isn't that a form of fatalism? No, it's a form of trust. It says every good thing I have has come from God. If He, the God I know to be a God of love and faithfulmness, in His wisdom wants to take it, He can do it. I may not understand it, I may not see the reason, but I'll trust Him anyway.
David worshipping was him saying, “Life has got to go on. I'm king of this land with responsibilities because God has so made me. I've sinned and He's dealt with that. There will be consequences of my sin, but I'll live with that with His help. He's my God and He deserves my worship – whatever has happened!”
4. A Bridge too Far?
Is that a bridge too far for you where you are in your pain? There are three things that may help you:
1. Where God is in all this
Well let me tell you what the Bible says about God in this context. First from the Old Testament: “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezek 18:32
God takes NO pleasure in the death of your child, or your older family member or whoever.
But we find in Psa 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”
So why does one verse say He takes no pleasure in death but the other says He finds death precious?
Because the first verse was in the context of people dying in their sin, separated from God for eternity and God doesn't want that – though He will allow it because He allows us choice.
The second verse is saying that God is blessed that those in relationship with Him have run the race faithfully to the end and He looks forward to welcoming them to be with Him in heaven.
The New Testament says the same thing: 2 Pet 3:9 “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish” i.e. He takes no delight in condemning anyone – He longs to reach out and draw each of us to Himself, but many say NO.
Do you want to see how God in the flesh – Jesus – expressed this? Then you have to see him at a funeral – Lazarus's, as recorded in John's Gospel.
Jn 11:33 “When he saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”
There are a variety of emotions in Jesus here, but he felt with them. God feels with you. God doesn't delight in the death and in your pain, He anguishes with you. That is the picture of God that the Bible paints.
2. It's good to weep and mourn
Ecclesiastes 3:4 speaks of “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
There IS a time to weep and mourn – it IS OK to feel bad about losing those you love very much
BUT there is also a time to laugh – life must go on. It's unhealthy to go on and on mourning – that's using grief as a perverse means of personal pleasure.
Psalm 30:5 says “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
The way God has designed us is to only weep for a while. This in no way dishonours the name or memory of the one who has died. When we continually grieve over them we become self-centred and that isn't honouring their memory.
When we are in good health, the pain diminishes, just like it does with a physical hurt, and we are healed. Our pain at our loss diminishes – the empty space may never go – but the anguish subsides, that's how we're designed.
3. It's good to go forward
Ongoing grief is an expression of confusion. We don't understand the realities of life and death and eternity. There is nothing meritorious about carrying on anguishing over our loved one who has gone.
When our body is broken or wounded, there is a natural healing process that takes place that enables us to be restored so that in a while we can carry on life as we had done before. Suppose someone broke both legs and couldn't move around for a couple of months while they were healing up, and then once their legs had clearly and obviously healed perfectly, they refused to get up and walk around, we would think there was something wrong in their mind and they would need help.
Grief is rather like that. We may continue to miss them for years and years. That is natural, but then anguish for their death should diminish – the cliché of “time is a great healer” is certainly true.
But there is another whole aspect to death and bereavement. Many a person has testified that their time of bereavement was also a time when, perhaps for the first time, they thought about the important issues of life – where am I going, what is it all about, what is after death?
These questions sometimes help us focus in a new way on life, and help us get a new purpose and direction to go on. However, before we can do that there are various others things we can actively do that can help us.
5. The Rest of Life
The good way ahead is to do five things:
1. Let your loved one go
They HAVE gone, nothing you can do will return them. That's what David did when he got up, washed and dressed. He let his baby go. We have to release our loved one to God, we can't hold them here in the present, that's not real, they HAVE gone!
Everything in you may want to hang on to them but as long as you try to maintain something that is not true, you'll never be able to move on. You may fear the loneliness, the hole in your life without them, but as long as you pretend, you stop God bringing the real comfort to you that you need.
You may be unsure about the meaning of eternal life, or what happens for them after death, but why not specifically place them in God's care. In your pain, you may not be sure of it, but trust it from another – God does love you and them. You can leave them safely with Him.
2. Give thanks for their memory
The longer you have known them, the easier this is. If it's a lost foetus, or still-born, or death very soon after birth, this is a very limited possibility, but it's a very positive thing to look back and give thanks for the good memories if you can.
This is a purposeful exercise where you sit down and take time to think back over what you knew of their life, focusing on all the good things you knew about them.
If they have been elderly or have been suffering a degenerative disease, go back beyond the degeneration and think of the good memories, the memories of them as you once knew them, when they were fit and healthy. Give thanks for the times that come to mind when you enjoyed them, give thanks for their impact on your world. If they didn't have an impact you wouldn't be grieving now.
3. Ask Forgiveness for your failures in it all
Some of us feel guilty about what we didn't do with that person. We all fail in different ways – this was just one of yours. Asking God for forgiveness is the only way to receive it and be released from the guilt. Guilt and a sense of failure can be really crippling and it is only God who can really release us from that.
For some of us, it is a sense of guilt that we didn't appreciate them while they were here. For others the guilt may be in respect of the relief we feel that they have gone. The thing about grief is that you can never say who is going to feel what. There is no ‘right' amount of grief.
The reality is for some people we have lost, that they had degenerated so much in mind or body that life was utterly miserable for them and it was a relief for them to go.
More than that, if you are really honest with yourself, they may have become an intolerable burden to you, whether it was because of what you were being called upon to do, or because of the anguish you were feeling because of their anguish. For some of us, a sense of relief is real and should not be a cause of guilt.
When you look back, you may be unsure of your emotions, you may not be sure if you did all you could, you may not be sure that you handled it well. Maybe you feel a guilt that is real, maybe your guilt is self imposed or even imposed by the unkind words of another. The answer is always the same – tell it to God, He understands. Say sorry if that's what you feel is needed, and receive His relief from that which has been weighing you down.
4. Receive God's Comfort
In 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 God is referred to as the God of comfort. God can comfort us in ways that we cannot explain. We come to Him in our weakness and frailty and pour our heart out to Him, and suddenly there so often comes a sense of being loved, being understood, being cared for. Suddenly the pain seems to lift. The memory is still clear but the anguish diminishes. In your weakness, come to God. Let Him put His arms of love around you and comfort and support you.
How does He do this? We don't know; we just know that He does. Many millions can testify to the truth of this. There they were, devastated by the loss of their loved one. They turned to God, perhaps for the first time, and found He was there. More than that, He was there to comfort them. Somehow they sensed His presence and sensed
5. Now Live!
Put on your best clothes, so to speak, and go and live life to its fullest. If the feeling of pain is still raw, then this may seem, at the moment, an impossibility but, as you work your way through the four things immediately above, you may find a change taking place.
In the previous part we spoke about the possibility of seeing life afresh, with a new awareness of the possible goodness of life. You will be different because of the death of your loved one, but you can choose, with God's help, what sort of difference that can be.
With God's help you can step out into the rest of your life, tempered by the pain of loss, yet holding the good memories, and being thankful. It's a new world and you have the possibility of influencing it for good in all the years God gives you.