But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
When a loved one dies, we grieve our loss deeply. It wrenches out our very soul. We ache for what we will miss. The memories conjured up in the weeks and months afterward remind us of the life that will no longer be part of ours – and we are forced to experience that pain over, and over, and over again.
But it would be a lot different if our loved one did not know Christ.
The apostle Paul recognized the way the world views death – with a sense of finality and hopelessness – is not how the believer should respond to the passing of a friend or a family member. He reminds us they are asleep, a term Jesus himself used before raising Lazarus (John 11:11) and the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:39). Death for the Christian is not death at all; the believer is just absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). That body – now asleep – will be resurrected and reunited with the loved one’s soul (1 Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9).
Does that mean we shouldn’t grieve when a believing friend or relative dies? Quite the contrary: Grieving is critical to help us process the past, accept our present, and embrace our future. Like death itself, grief is part of life. It is an excruciating, yet necessary, life experience. Life without our redeemed loved one morphs into a new normal. We look forward to seeing how God will direct our steps. We have the confidence – the hope – that the “sleeping” Christian is very much alive in the arms of the Savior.
The real tragedy is for those who have not given their lives to Christ. When one of their friends or family members dies, there is no hope – a stark contrast to the eternal outlook, perspective and security of the believer. May we have a heart for the hurting, and to share the Good News of Christ with those who desperately need the hope that only comes through faith in Him.
Written by Paul Ciotta: Chaplain Paul Ciotta serves at the Colony of Mercy, where men struggling in the bondage of addiction seek a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. He has been connected with America’s Keswick for more than 20 years as a vacationer, donor, and pastor/delegate and mentor to Colony graduates. He can be reached at email@example.com.