Christian Living

Real Hope for Real Grief (Part 2)

Terry Coon

I have to admit that when the Holy Ghost first put it on my heart to write about death and our response to it, I was hesitant. Death is a touchy topic and everyone has been affected by it. My intentions are not to cause anyone more pain. I also do not want to minimize or trivialize death by painting a picture from a Christian perspective that death is “cakewalk.” Instead, I want to paint the picture the Bible paints: a picture that includes suffering and joy, hope and loss, grief and glory.

I really believe that in order to grasp its depth (if that is even possible), we must look at both sides of the coin.

The Bad and the Ugly

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

Death is a byproduct of sin. It exists because man is sinful and God is holy. Sin demands justice and justice is served by death. God did not intend for death to be a part of his marvelous creation, yet he allowed it. But He had every intention of using it to “reverse the curse.”

Let this sink in: Our sin is so great and so damaging that it causes the loss of life. We are all guilty of sin and are affected and corrupted by it. Sin has so radically corrupted everyone and everything, that no one can escape death or the realities of it.

The Good

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

This passage in John is just as real as the passage in Genesis. In John, we find out that God allowed death to become a reality, but not a finality. It reminds us that God can take terrible circumstances and use them for the good of his children and ultimately for his Glory. Yes, it is true that “ALL things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28; emphasis mine). On the one hand, we have this terrible reality that people are removed from this world. Yet, because of Christ there is another reality operating concurrently that screams, “Death is not the end!”

The bridge then is Christ. He makes joy possible in the face of suffering. He brings hope when we’ve experienced loss. He points us to glory while we grieve. It all happens in Christ, and in Christ alone.

Our first representative, Adam, led us to sin and death. Our second Adam, Jesus, leads to righteousness and life through his death AND resurrection. Because he satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of humanity, death (though very real) is swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).

The Reality

This leads me to the crux and conclusion of this post. Often times when seemingly “good people” and loved ones die, a lot of Christians tend to send people to heaven because that thought eases the pain. I have gone to countless funerals and read countless posts where people have presumed that because a person has done so many good things or may have said a prayer at some point in their lives, they’re in; regardless of the person’s theology and lifestyle, heaven is the only option.

Most people would probably never openly pronounce at a funeral that the deceased person’s eternal destination is hell, but why should that give us license to claim heaven for that person, when there is no real indication that it is true?  In John 11 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the writers mention multiple times that the person who lives/will live in eternity with God in heaven, is the person who lived/died in Christ.  This is the person whose life was hidden in Christ (cf. Colossians 3:3-4).  This is the person whose life was radically transformed by Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15-17). This is the person whose life was characterized by Christ-likeness (cf. John 15:1-11) and the list goes on.

When we disregard a deceased person’s life and send them to heaven presumptuously, we do no damage to that person (for their eternal destination has already been set). Instead, we do damage to those who remain alive. What we communicate is that there is no need to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ in this life because “doing good things” covers you in the next. What we communicate is that Scripture is true inasmuch as it doesn’t affect our ability to cope with death. What we communicate is false hope.

As Children of the Word, we must stand firm on the truth of Christ that he is the only way to God and heaven. Painfully, this means that every family member will not be there. This means that many people who did good deeds but rejected Christ will not make it. This means that we must be serious about this life if we want to be with Christ in the next. This means we have to be all the more diligent and zealous to proclaim the glorious, death-defying, soul-saving, bondage-breaking, new life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ to everybody.

We must remind ourselves and tell others that if there is to be any hope in grief, any consolation for our pain, any joy in our sorrow, it must be by, through, and in Christ.

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