Summary: This sermon was delivered to help those who are bereaved, especially believers who are struggling with the guilt of grief.
Death - The Hardest Fact of Life
By David Moore
Pastor, Braehill Baptist Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland
“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel . . . and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Genesis 4:1-8).
Everyone knows that we live close to death. God has explicitly told us that we are going to die, and experience bears that out. But, when death comes we are still surprised by it. Even when an elderly person dies or someone dies after prolonged illness, though we expect death more imminently, when it happens we are still shocked. Why is that? It is because God created us to live. We speak of a natural death, but in truth, death is unnatural. In us all there is an instinct to live, because God made us to live. Adam was not supposed to die. Death came about as a result of his sin, it is part of the curse, it is our natural enemy, not our friend, and therefore our instincts are to live and not to die. Death then is the ultimate crisis, not only for the deceased, but also for the bereaved, for when a person dies all of their life goals cease, and all of our life goals, as they are affected and influenced by that person, are interrupted.
The first recorded death in the Bible was a sudden death not a natural death. It was the death of a young man, not an old man, the death of a good man at the hands of a bad man, the death of a son, not a father. For Adam & Eve, death was a new experience - no one had ever died before. God had told them death would come - but when it came it was unexpected and shocking. By the time we reach Genesis chapter 5, we find death is in full swing and home after home is bereaved. The recurring phrase of Genesis 5 is “and he died.” Death affects us all, and it is the ultimate crisis of life.
The Stages of Grief
It is rather unfortunate that we refer to bereavement in terms of stages. Grief is a very personal thing, and people are not cloned to respond in exactly the same way. In referring to “stages in grief” we are not trying to place an exact and clinical science upon a very difficult and personal experience, we are simply referring to some feelings or responses which bereavement counsellors and others have observed as common to those who are grieving.
When we are first given the news of a death we immediately experience shock and a feeling of numbness. We are in fact experiencing stress. We respond to stress in three ways - mentally, emotionally and physically.
Mentally we experience denial, it is hard to accept our loved one is gone.
Emotionally we may experience a sense of fear, anxiety or anger. Sometimes we are angry with God. These are natural responses of any us to a perceived threat, and death is certainly threatening when it walks uninvited into our home.
There are also definite physiological changes which are in affect preparing the body to deal with that perceived threat. Our adrenaline increases - the heart rate rises, as does our blood pressure. We find ourselves breathing more freely. The body may experience sweating, and we are more sensitive to noise. When these responses are repressed the result is increasing stress which becomes a powerful stimulus to mobilising us in other ways. This explains why we might find a bereaved person highly active, and busy during the pre funeral period.
In some ways knowing these things is irrelevant to us when we are bereaved, because these responses come naturally, but its good to know these things when we are on the outside of bereavement so that we might understand a little of what’s going on.
Once the stress response dissipates, we enter into the next stage of bereavement, and that is YEARNING.
During the funeral period the events seem surreal - like a bad dream - but gradually the truth of the situation begins to sink in - again we find ourselves periodically subject to stress responses. There is a period of longing and searching for the deceased. We experience moments of overwhelming grief. The psalmist related it this way: “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.” (Psalms 69:1-3).