Pastor John, here’s a heavy email we recently received from a woman who prefers that her name not be used online. “Dear Pastor John, my brother-in-law recently passed away at age 32 in a tragic accident. We stood by his bedside for two months, hopeful that he would recover, but now recognize that God’s will was to take him home to heaven. We rejoice that he was in Christ and can now see him face to face. That is awesome. Yet there is so much sorrow left behind. The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there are appropriate times for different seasons. Many days my husband and I feel a struggle to get out of bed. We struggle to enjoy blessings like the joys our baby boy brings because they remind us of our dear brother that we are deeply grieving. What encouragement does the Bible give for those who are mourning? How do we lift each other up during these dark days? How do we mourn the death of a loved one in a God-honoring way? Your podcasts are such a blessing to our family, especially during this time.”
Thank you very much. That’s encouraging. I love the way she put two questions back to back that, in a sense, answer each other. She said, “What encouragement does the Bible give for those who are mourning?” That’s one question. Then she said, “How do we lift each other up during this dark time?”
The first question is the answer to the second question. In other words, if we go to the Scriptures and find its encouragements, that’s how we lift each other up. They speak God’s word to each other. Let me do that. Let me feed into them maybe five precious lessons I’ve learned from Scripture walking through many sorrows and losses.
Grief Is Real and Right
First, don’t add to your burden by thinking grief is foreign to the heart of God’s children. They know this, but it might be good to hear it. First Thessalonians 4:13 says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep” — that is, this brother-in-law who died — “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
He doesn’t say that you may not grieve, but that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. Christian grieving is real and it is right. Let that not be an added burden that they are walking through a season of real, painful grief.
Second, eat the fruit of sorrow, even if it is bitter. This fruit, that you can only eat now, has nutrients in it that you can’t get any other way. I know this is may be a little hard to hear, but this is so real and so needed.
“God does not leave his children in the depths of sorrow. Joy comes eventually, and it comes in God’s timing.”
Martin Luther said that God teaches us deep things about himself. Then he used two Latin words: not only by oratio, which means prayer, but meditatio, which means meditation, on the Scriptures. But also — this was his discovery — God teaches us deep things about himself also by tentatio, which is translated trial, testing, affliction. And the texts that he cited were Psalm 119:67, which says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word,” and Psalm 119:71, which says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
There are nutrients that we draw out of seasons of suffering that are strengthening to the bones of our faith and sweetening to the marrow of our faith like we can’t get any other way. Eat them. Go ahead and eat them. As long as God keeps you in that season, don’t waste it by wishing and wishing, wishing you’d be out of it. Go ahead and eat the fruit that grows on that tree alone.
Near the Brokenhearted
Third, savor the special promised nearness of the Lord. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” There is a unique and special promised nearness that you will enjoy. Yes, that is a tearful, painful, true word you will enjoy that you will not have once the sun comes out again.
I know it. I’ve walked through this. Two or three major, major losses in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything if I just focus on the sweetness of how God drew near.
God Heals Wounds
Fourth, believe that he will heal the wounds of loss. You can call them an amputation without desecrating the preciousness of the memory. I think sometimes we’re so afraid that if this gets healed too quickly, it’s going to be dishonoring to my lost loved one because I’ll just be going about my business like usual. It’ll look like he doesn’t matter.
I think we all feel that, and yet Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” You don’t need to rush it. When it comes, it won’t be in any way a diminishing of the preciousness of the one who was taken.
Joy Will Come
Fifth, wait. Wait for God’s timing of healing and restoration. Psalm 30:5 says, “His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
I don’t think the point of that is about the clock, like sadness at dusk, joy at dawn every day. That’s not the point of that statement. The point is God does not leave his children indefinitely in the depths of sorrow. Joy comes eventually when dawn comes, and it comes in God’s timing. The older you get, the more you know that terrible things don’t have the same horrible gut punch as time goes by.
“We draw nutrients from suffering that strengthen the bones of our faith that we can’t get any other way.”
In the moment of loss, when you get that phone call, that utter disappointment, that painful email, a dream is shattered, a massive disappointment, something you thought would never happen — and you feel in those first hours, “There’s no way I can live with this. There’s no way I can live with this.”
God’s timing is very mysterious in its effects because the next day it’s a little different, and the next day it’s a little different. A week later it’s a little different. Everybody moves at different paces, but God uses time and grace to take away the sense of impossibility of life.
Psalm 40:1–3 states, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
How long did David wait in the pit? I don’t know, but he waited, he waited. That’s what I’m calling for. I pray that this grieving, unnamed couple will be brought out into the light of hope and joy in due time, not in any glib way that minimizes the loss, but with all the deep work in their hearts that God is doing for their good and, no doubt, through them, for the good of others.