Surviving Grief and Loss
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
We have all gone through loss. Whether it was a pet you once had, a plant that died (like the Bonsai tree my wife gave me for our first anniversary), or more seriously a friend or family member who was very close to you. Encountering death seems inevitable and unavoidable. And it is very difficult.
I lost my dad in March of 2022 and for the first time in my life experienced real, heart-wrenching, grief. I still miss him and am hit by random waves of sorrow but God has used this painful loss to continue to shape my perspective and grow my faith.
One miracle of the incarnation is that Jesus, the Son of God, experienced our pain. When we think of grief and loss in particular we see that Jesus, in John 11, gives us both a path to follow and a hope to hold in the midst of grief. This will be the topic of this article.
Jesus gives us both a path to follow and a hope to hold in the midst of grief.
A Path to Follow
1. Jesus shows us how to love well.
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:3)
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:5)
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36)
Jesus exemplifies a deep love for his friend Lazarus. We also see this because Jesus risked His life to go and see Lazarus.
The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?"...Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:8; 14-16)
Jesus was willing to embrace danger to go see Lazarus! This is a great picture of sacrificial love. When we choose to love one another we walk in the path of Jesus. This is imitation of Christ in its purest form. When we love and lose someone, though, we will experience grief...
2. Jesus shows us that grief is okay.
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:32-35)
It is okay to not be okay. Here we have the perfect Son of God weeping for His friend. We can relate to Mary’s disappointment. "Why didn’t you stop this?" "Why did you let this happen?" And Jesus' response is to grieve right there with Mary. Jesus knows our pain.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
Christ grieves for the one He loved. The perfect, sinless, omnipotent, Son of God...still grieves. Since Jesus never sinned we must then agree that grieving is a good and necessary response to loss. It is the outpouring of our love for the one who has gone.
What is interesting is that Jesus knew how this story would end, and how the greater story will end when He makes all things new at the end of time and there will be no more death or suffering...and yet HE STILL GRIEVED.
On a deeper level, I believe Jesus was grieving for the condition of sin and fallenness of the world. It was not supposed to be this way. When all things were created there was no death and no suffering. In our hearts we feel the same, this is not how it should be! They say "death is part of life" but it certainly doesn't feel natural! That is because this is not the whole story...it will not be like this forever. Why? Because we have a hope to hold...
A Hope to Hold
1. Jesus Gives Us His Promise
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)
Jesus' response to Martha’s disappointment is a PROMISE. Look at the promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).
This is the promise I cling to when I miss my dad: “YET SHALL HE LIVE.”
Death is only the beginning. Death does not have the final say. There is more to the story! Hence Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 15,
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
How can anyone say this authoritatively? How can we know that this life is not all there is? How can we have confidence in the hope of eternal life? Put simply, Jesus overcame death by His power.
2. Jesus Demonstrates His Power Over Death
[Jesus] cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)
The whole point of this account is for Jesus to demonstrate his power, authority, and DEITY! He raises Lazarus from the dead. The dead man walks out of the grave!
This caused a huge turning to Christ of the people who lived nearby and heard and saw Lazarus and the miracle started a domino effect that results in what we see in the coming chapters where Jesus is crucified. This in some ways was the climax of His ministry before the crucifixion. But it is not the only reason we can trust Jesus when He speaks of things beyond this life. After dying on the cross, Jesus again demonstrates his power to speak to what comes after this life by rising from the dead.
Jesus again demonstrates his power to speak to what comes after this life by rising from the dead.
The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. The dead man who claimed to be the Son of God came back from the grave. He now invites us into life with Him. We know we can trust His promise because He demonstrated His power over death.
We can trust this promise of our Lord. We can trust this word of Jesus,
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.
On our most painful days of grief we can remember that Jesus gives us a path to follow and a hope to hold. He also promises His presence in the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who is our comforter.
Furthermore, God knows our pain personally. He watched His only begotten Son die on the cross. When we look at the cross we can know that no matter what we have lost, no matter how painful it is, when we wonder "why?" we know why it cannot be: it cannot be because God does not love us. The cross shouts God's great love for us. This may not satisfy our confusion or remove the pain we feel in the midst of grief, but it should be enough to bring us to hope in God and praise to the One who is working all things together for our good.
When I think of my dad, I remember the words of Jesus, "Yet shall he live."
Stand in His Grace today,
You can watch my Dad's memorial service from about a year ago where I preached on John 11 below: