This week, a very close friend of mine passed away.
His name was Brian. For the better part of seven years, he co-hosted a podcast with me. He was a gentle soul and a committed Christian.
Brian had dealt with serious health problems his entire life, but his death was unexpected, and it left his friends and family shocked and searching for a way to cope with the sudden loss.
As a Christian, I believe that this life is not all there is. Christians believe that our ultimate hope is in Christ for a life beyond this one. Brian believed that too, and he wasn’t afraid to die.
But even so, the death of a loved one can leave almost all of us feeling pain and numbness far beyond what we’d expect if we heard that, say, this person went on an extremely long cruise. Part of it is the realization that we won’t get to see them for many years, which would make even the cruise hard to swallow, but there’s often more to it. I think it is, at least partly, fear. We haven’t yet experienced the other side of death, so it’s hard just to trust God with it. We’re afraid because we don’t know what it will be like, and sometimes we’re afraid of being wrong about the whole thing.
Whatever the reasons, people need the chance to grieve the deaths of those we love.
When I was a kid, I imagined that the Christian response to a Christian’s death should just be to tell everyone to rejoice and celebrate their return to God. There is, to be sure, some truth to that. But even Jesus famously grieved the death of his friend Lazarus. If we Christians respond to people’s suffering by trying to cheer them up, saying trite things like, “Oh don’t worry; you’ll see him again,” and fail to honor their pain and need to grieve, we just come across as insensitive jerks. Instead, we must sit with our friends and allow them (and ourselves) to grieve the loss we feel—fear, doubt, and all.
Yes, we Christians have hope for the future, but it’s a careful balance we must walk, trusting in that hope even as we boldly and humbly face the realities of our present existence. Christians aren’t immune to pain. What we have is a God who promises to carry us through even when it sometimes feels too much to bear.
And someday, when all is said and done, the clouds will be gone, and we will rejoice without reservation.