Another Kind of Grief
1 Thessalonians 4:13
13 But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope.
Note how this little verse tells us something we already know, something we all ought to know, and something we all can know.
First, we all know grief. If we haven’t, we will. Call it what you will—grief, sorrow, mourning—we have all been there. The passage is talking about grief at the death of a loved one. We all know about that. As a preacher, I have stood beside scores and scores of caskets and watched wives, husbands, parents, children, brothers and sisters parade by the final remains of a loved one. They have come from all walks of life. Some were rich. Others were poor. A few have held positions of power and influence in the world. Most did not. Young and old, black and white, they all knew grief.
I have also known grief personally. I have been at many funerals when I wasn’t the preacher. I have stood at the graveside of one of my parents, my grandmother, many uncles, aunts, and cousins. I know from personal experience that grief is more than sadness. Grief takes place on a deeper level. Grief is physical, emotional, and spiritual. We feel the pain. Our hearts race. The tears flow. We lose our appetites. We may feel weak in the knees. We feel emotionally drained. We can’t focus. Our mind races in a dozen directions at once. We replay long forgotten memories. We mentally rehearse conversations that we planned to have but never got around to. The grief cuts all the way to the soul. Grief is a spiritual experience that forces us to contemplate issues we have long avoided. We all know grief.
We grieve for lots of reasons. Part of it comes from the separation. No time is a good time to lose a loved one. Conventional wisdom may suggest that it should be an easy matter to part with an aged parent or one who has lost a battle with a prolonged illness. Not so. We still grieve. Even when we knew it was coming, we grieve.
Sometimes the grief comes from unrealized dreams. A child is struck down in the spring of life. A spouse dies in midlife. We grieve because we have lost more than our loved one. We have lost a part of our future. We grieve for lots of reasons.
Sometimes our grief comes from the sense of our own mortality. Who can go to the funeral of a friend without contemplating his own future demise?
Some well-meaning people have been known to tell us that we shouldn’t grieve. That’s not what this passage says. It acknowledges that we will grieve. No amount of scolding or condemning will change that. How silly to suggest that we shouldn’t. The great saints of the Bible knew grief. Abraham mourned the passing of Sarah. Isaac was still grieving three years after his mother’s death. David wept when his friend Jonathan died. Who can forget the grief of Job at the loss of his children? Even Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. Scripture even describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus knew what it was to grieve. Grief is not bad or wrong. Grief is a response to the way God made us—creatures that love and care and hurt when we lose a loved one. We feel grief because the creator put eternity in our hearts.
On the surface there is a sameness to grief. It is a universal experience. But beneath the surface it is another matter. Our little verse reminds us of that as well. The text says, “We don’t want you to grieve like the rest of men.” Our verse suggests that there is more than one kind of grief. There is a good grief that grows from love and the unnaturalness of death. But there is another grief born of hopelessness. I suspect many of us recognize the difference. We ought to!
I have been to many funerals. They have all been marked by grief. But some have been scarred by hopelessness. I have stood at gravesides with families who knew only the stuff of this life. They cared little for the news of the next. And it showed in their grief. There was a hardness, a harshness, a hopelessness to the whole thing. Without a future to look to, the grief easily turns to anger and frustration with one another. Grief without hope is never a pretty picture.
But I have stood at other gravesides where the tears were tinted with hope. Friends and family wept. They hurt for one another and the loss they shared. But a light shined in the darkness. They confidently talked of a future reunion. They spoke of grace and love experienced and shared. They could look through the grief of the moment to a greater day yet to come. Our text reminds us of what we all ought to know—all grief is not the same. Some is good. Some is not.
Our text tells us what we already know—we grieve. But most importantly, this verse also points to what we can know. We can all know the hope that comes through faith in Jesus, a hope that makes a difference in the way we face death and the way we handle grief. Note how the verse says it again, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (fall asleep was a euphemism for death; we speak the same way), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” The verses that follow explain the basis of the hope. Verse 18 ends the discussion with these words, “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
In between is an explanation of what all who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior believe. We believe that death is inevitable. It is a part of a sin-broken world. But Jesus came to deal with sin and death. He died for us on the cross. He faced death and conquered it. He arose on the third day. He ascended to heaven above. And he’s coming back. When he does, the dead shall rise. Those who remain alive will be caught up and transformed. All who have put faith in him will live again eternally with him and with one another forever. “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
In the midst of that dark shadow of grief, a man named Spafford who lost his family, found the hope to pen the words to a beloved hymn, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll-Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul. Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and shed His own blood for my soul. And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll: The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, "Even so" it is well with my soul.”
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”