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Have you grieved the death of someone close to you? Are you still feeling the pain of a long-ago loss? Maybe you have even asked yourself this question: If God is good and all-powerful, why am I suffering so much? The good news is that you can face death—even your own—with boldness, courage, and hope.
Not long ago, a dear friend and colleague of mine died, and I was asked to say a few words at his funeral. I’ve always found it challenging but a great privilege to speak in honor of the memory of someone who has died. Life is a precious gift. And, especially if one has lived a long and full life, there are so many things to say. His or her life is like a diamond that sparkles as you turn it. You see experiences, traits, qualities of strength—and, yes, even a few weaknesses. It’s the sum of a life; how do you encapsulate it in a few minutes? And yet, what an honor it is to speak in memory of a beloved friend or loved one at such a time.
When a loved one dies, we grieve. And many struggle with how to get through the difficult time of loss. Especially in these times of so many grievous diseases—when death threatens young and old, healthy and infirm—how can we cope?
There are many answers to that question—but regular readers of this magazine know that we hold to the Bible as the truth, the word of God. It is not just a book of history and prophecy; it has the answers to the big questions of life. When we look for guidance about death and the grief that surrounds the loss of a loved one, we ought to put God’s word at the center of our focus. So, our first and foundational key to coping with the death of a loved one is:
A man named Job lived thousands of years ago. Job was tried severely through many successive ordeals. He lost loved ones—his sons and daughters—tragically in one day. He struggled to understand and even blamed God for his troubles. The loss shook his faith to the foundations. But, in the end, he put his trust in God and reflected on the hope of the resurrection: “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands” (Job 14:14–15).
Job believed in the “change” that would come—the resurrection from the dead. He believed that the time would come for the dead to rise in response to God’s call. Indeed, you can read from one end of the Bible to the other, and you’ll find the affirmation of life after death. Our present life is not the end.
When Jesus was on this earth, He was God in the flesh. What did He say about life and death? Notice: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28–29).
Jesus said there is a future beyond death. Those are the words of the Son of God Himself. And He Himself has already risen from the dead. The Apostle Paul wrote about Christ’s life after death: “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
Despite Jesus’ resurrection, many do not believe. In every age, there have been those who doubted. Yet Paul explained that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was witnessed by hundreds of people. Many of them were still alive when Paul wrote the following: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3–6).
Consider Paul’s words. He was saying that, at the time he was writing, hundreds of brethren were living who had seen the risen Christ and were still around to talk about it. If you are not sure whether you can believe the Bible, consider this testimony. If this had not been true, would Paul have dared make such a bold assertion? If Jesus Christ really hadn’t been resurrected, why would Paul stake his reputation on it? And why would Paul—as well as the other Apostles—later sacrifice his life rather than preach against it?
Paul was even able to say, with great boldness, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Because he knew that he would be with Christ after death, he lived as one who could preach Christ with confidence in life. Do you and I have that confidence?
We know the Bible gives us truth and hope, but we are still flesh-and-blood mortals who deeply feel the loss of loved ones. Some who grieve feel stuck, like they’ll never get over a loss. The Bible is special in that it gives us a glimpse of what happens after death, and when we lose a husband, a wife, a child, or a close friend, we can turn to the Bible for encouragement and comfort—for where else can we get real answers?
Still, we grieve—we are sad. We feel heartbroken and may feel a profound emptiness. Though we may feel tempted to retreat within ourselves, a vital second key to coping with the death of a loved one is:
People everywhere have traditions and ceremonies to honor the dead and to comfort the living. Often, family and friends gather to lend support and encouragement. Eulogies about the deceased may be given by those who were close to them. We are saddened by the occasion and may shed tears—but on the other hand, remembering the life, accomplishments, and even a humorous anecdote or two about a loved one is healing and therapeutic.
I’m always touched when attending a funeral and learning more deeply about another person’s life. It’s profound to hear what a son, granddaughter, or other relative relates about what was important to them or to their loved one. Those memories are precious and especially profound when shared by someone who knew the person well. And they should be shared. Though the process is a bit painful, we all benefit by hearing the stories of a child of God who’s finished his or her race.
Sometimes people want to hide during mourning and sorrow, and in doing so, they often pull away from individuals in their life who could help them the most. Being surrounded by people who love us is extremely helpful to working through the grieving process. When death occurs, we need to accept the efforts of others to comfort us. They may not always know what to say, and there may be awkward moments—but they’re trying to help, and it’s good to accept that help. The pandemic has made isolation more acute and more painful. As human beings, we need one another! And that is especially true during times of distress and loss.
If you are one who wants to comfort someone else, be careful that when you reach out to the one who is grieving, you allow that person the time and space to grieve. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that there is a time to mourn, to weep, and to keep silent. There is even a time to die—yet that is not all there is. There is also a time to embrace, to love, and to heal. When you reach out to those who grieve, be sure that you are doing so to help them work through their grief and move toward healing, not just to make yourself feel better.
The gospels record that Jesus wept when His friend died. We read, “Therefore, when Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the Spirit and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11:33–35).
It is possible Jesus was moved to sadness by the lack of faith around Him (v. 53). Yet, it is reasonable to believe that, since He was a friend of Lazarus (v. 11) and close to his family, He was also moved to share their grief.
Sometimes, as adults, we can forget that children and teens also experience distress when they see a grandparent or other relative dying. They might be confused about what’s happening, especially if they are very young. Some may be confused by their own emotions. Others may not even show emotion. They may act out their feelings inappropriately and misbehave. Many websites give advice on helping young people grieve, but their advice may apply to many of us adults, as well. Here’s what one site suggests:
(“Death and Grief,” KidsHealth.org)
The article from which we’ve just read reminds us to find meaning in life. Truly, to understand death, we first must understand the meaning of life. Why are we here? What does human life mean? Are the evolutionists right? Are you the result of billions of proteins that just happened to be zapped by a lightning bolt and mashed together in a random way, resulting in all working together harmoniously and perfectly?
The truth is, we are children of God. We have been made in His image. In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, we read that “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness….’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26–27).
Do you realize what that means? It means you look like God. Now, understand—in His glorified state, He would be brighter than the sun to us. We could not see Him and live. But if we could look at Him in the spiritual realm, we would see someone who looks like us—because we look like Him!
How do we know for sure? Consider this: “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Genesis 5:3). It’s the same phrase—made in his own likeness, after his image—that in Genesis 1 described God making mankind. Now, we have no problem understanding that Seth looked like his father Adam, and his mother, Eve. So, why is it such a stretch to believe that we were made in the image of God—that we, if we could see God, would see that we look like Him?
Think about this: It means we are on a totally different level of existence than the animals. We were made to have a connection with God, a connection that gives us a destiny so much greater than that of any animal on earth. There is a purpose to this life. This life is a time to grow in character—God’s character. We are here to come to understand God and His purpose and turn our hearts to Him. And, ultimately, He is giving us the opportunity to live with Him in the spirit realm, in His Family, forever. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1–2).
How amazing—we shall be like Him, and we shall see Him as He is. That’s the purpose of life. The purpose of life is not to be snuffed out forever, be reborn to live physical life all over again, or drift off into nothingness. The purpose of our physical life is to prepare for eternal life. “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).
So, we don’t just live our lives aimlessly, with no regard for tomorrow. We live for Christ, to be conformed to His character—and if we do that, accept His sacrifice for our sins, and humbly ask Him to guide our lives, we’ll live forever. What an opportunity!
We read that “one testified in a certain place, saying: ‘What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him?’” (Hebrews 2:6). Truly, we are so insignificant compared to the enormous size of this planet, much less the size of the solar system or the universe. Yet God has created us for a purpose:
“You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him (Hebrews 2:7–8).
We don’t yet have “all things” put under our feet, as Paul goes on to explain, because right now we are only in the physical flesh. But when we enter life—real life, eternal life—we will receive our inheritance. What does that mean? If you haven’t already done so, you may want to request a free copy of our powerful and informative booklet What Happens When You Die?, written by this magazine’s Editorial Director, Mr. Richard F. Ames. He tells us:
“Nothing” not put under him? “All” in subjection? Yes, this is the promise! The Greek phrase translated as “all” in Hebrews 2:8 is ta panta—which literally means “the all.” As Greek lexicons explain, ta panta in the absolute sense means “the universe.” God wants to give you, along with billions of others, dominion not just over the earth, but over the universe! (p. 33).
When you suffer the painful loss of those close to you, don’t despair. There is hope. There is a future. Our whole life has been built around a plan that God is working out. The human family is a miracle. The fact that we can survive on this planet is astounding when we realize how finely tuned our world must be to support life.
We are not here by accident. We are here for a purpose—and that purpose gives us hope. Paul explains, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Millions live in fear of death because they have no hope. They believe philosophies that teach them that death is the end, forever. Others are terrified of the afterlife, because they are afraid their loved ones are suffering intense torment right now in an ever-burning hell and they fear that they, too, will meet such a fate.
But regular readers of this magazine know that the vast majority of those living in this age—who never heard the true Gospel preached, who only heard of a false Christ or of none at all, and whom God never called—will have their opportunity at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11–15).
Yes, our God is both just and merciful. Truly, we can say as Paul did, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
The pain of losing a loved one is real. But we can take comfort, knowing that there is a purpose for suffering and that death is not the end. As we look to God, walk with Him, and allow Him to guide our lives, we will understand His purpose more and more—and we’ll be able to help others along their journey, as well.