Summary: God’s grief is not only the response of his heart to the arrows of pain that wound us. God himself is wounded by the separation caused by death. Death interrupts God’s own conversation with his child. When it comes to enduring pain, God asks nothing of us
We come here today pay our respect to ( ), and to comfort members of the family and friends. We belong to a larger family, the family of believers in Jesus Christ, the conqueror of death. And this is the hour when our belief in Him is tested. This is the moment when our declared personal relationship with the Lord, is made obvious. Thank everyone for your prayers, for your friendship, etc. Our brother ( ) was special…
Prayer: O God our Father, Creator of us all, giver and preserver of all life: We confess to you our slowness to accept death as part of this world ugly side. Death as part of the human nature shaped by sin. We confess our reluctance to commit to you those whom we love. Restore our faith that we may come to trust in your care and providence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I had been in that church just a few months and I was making my rounds, getting acquainted. Visiting one of the ladies, Mrs. Maudry: she began telling me about the great hole in her life left by the death of her husband Jimmy. Her grief was as sharp and fresh as if Jimmy had died just yesterday.
I listened closely as details spilled out. Jimmy had been a handsome guy, thoughtful and very carrying. It was a summer day. He and some friends had gone to a meeting. On his way – heart attack. Dead within two minutes. It did not quite make sense to me. The way Mrs Maudry talked, I was sure the accident had occurred only a short time ago. But Jimmy sounded like a young guy. And Mrs. Maudry is in her seventees. Finally Mrs Maudry mentioned the detail I had been listening for. Jimmy had died on his 44th birthday, in 1975, almost 40 years ago… Her grief does not go away. He did not remarry. He still missing her husband.
According to traditional Christian teaching, when someone dies, he or she goes immediately into the presence of God or enters the torments of hell. In this view, before death takes place, God is limited in his interaction with people by frailty of our bodily existence. When a believer dies, death looks like heals this separation and leads immediately to the joy of unrestricted spiritual fellowship between God & his children. So, for God, death is a great benefit. It is the door to heaven. We, who are left on earth, may looked sad because of the separation, but God rejoices by the homeward flight of his child.
The Bible I read come with a different picture of God. When someone dies, the person stops interacting with God through prayer, worship and fellowship. Certainly the person is not lost to the heart or memory of God. But as an active, thinking, loving, talking human being, the person no longer exists. In the language of the Bible, the person "sleeps" (John 11:11-14). A dead person has no awareness of time or waiting. The person remains unconscious until the resurrection. At the second coming all God’s people are united and taken en masse into the presence of God. They all arrive at the heavenly party together (Heb 11:39, 40).
In this view, God himself is deprived of the living companionship of a person who dies‚ along with the grieving family and friends. Instead of death being a fortunate thing to God, death robs God of the worship/friendship of his people (Ps 115:17). When people die, the heavenly Father no longer hears the voices of his children in praise and prayer. He has memories to cherish and a future to anticipate, but he is not in fellowship with their vital, interactive "souls."
In the story of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, we read that moments before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he wept. Given Jesus’ divinity, this incident portrays God’s identification with human pain. Jesus knew that Lazarus was not going to remain dead. Still, the heartbreak of his friends brought Jesus himself to tears. It is a cliché that when children hurt, their moms and dads hurt as much as or more than the young ones. And God, our heavenly parent, hurts for his children. When grief batters our hearts and wets our eyes, God hurts because we hurt. But there is more to God’s grief than that.
God’s grief is not only the response of his heart to the arrows of pain that wound us. God himself is wounded by the separation caused by death. Death interrupts God’s own conversation with his child. God bears the emotional cost of the system he has designed and allows to continue even in its broken condition. When it comes to enduring pain, God asks nothing of us he does not require of himself.