“Grandpa died,” my mom said when her phone call from Grandma ended. I was a sophomore in high school.
After retiring from his career as an assembler of woody station wagons at the Ford Motor Company, my maternal grandfather spent every morning working in his garden. One day in May, after returning to the house and eating a small lunch, he laid down for a nap. An hour later, Grandma couldn’t wake him. Her husband of 59 years had suffered a massive heart attack. The news hit me hard.
Since my paternal grandfather had died when I was only three years old, I have no memory of meeting him. But my mom’s dad was given more time to make priceless memories by taking us fishing on Cowboy Lake every summer and teaching us how to scale, fillet, and fry our catch. Losing Grandpa pained my siblings and me. Still, this didn’t fully prepare us for the following spring.
One year later, my favorite uncle was murdered. I still remember where I was standing when my mom told me that Dad and the police found his body. By favorite, I mean Uncle Denny was the uncle whom we were closest to. Of course, we loved all our aunts and uncles, but we had a closer connection with him for two reasons. First, he lived only fifteen minutes from our house, so we saw him more often. Second, his wife died in a motorcycle accident after only one year of marriage, so Uncle Denny found affection and a brief break from loneliness by coming to our house on major holidays. Every Christmas, for example, he would join us for our afternoon dinner. Later, after he went home, Mom would give us the envelopes he had slipped to her privately, each containing a crisp $20 bill. Believe me, to a kid in the 1970s, that was big money! Losing our uncle was painful, but the manner of his death heightened our loss.
No matter how death enters our families, it’s hard to lose those we love. But there are other forms of loss which also invite grief: divorce, college disappointments, friendships that dissolve because of conflict or long-distance moves, or job losses—just to name a few. Whatever way loss delivers grief to the doorstep of your heart, there is often shock and tears. But there is also comfort available from God.
LOSS IS EVERYWHERE
Before sin entered the Garden of Eden, all was well and good. There was no loss, pain, grief, or death. Sadly, this heaven-on-earth didn’t last long. The great deceiver, the devil, entered human experience and tempted Adam and Eve to doubt the goodness of God and the integrity of His Word, and they fell into his trap (Genesis 3:1-7).
The first man and his wife betrayed God and, as a result, peaceful fellowship with their Creator turned into animosity. Excessive labor, suffering, sorrow, and death entered their world and ours—all because of sin. And not one of is exempt from its reach, as Job 5:7 testifies, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Adam’s sin spread to all men and, therefore, just as sure as sparks rise out of a campfire, so every one of us suffers pain and loss. Therefore, we should not be “surprised at the fiery trial” when it comes upon us (1 Peter 4:12). Painful challenges are part of everyday existence, but God abounds in mercy toward us.
God sacrificed an animal for the first man and woman to make a covering for their sin. Then He promised to send one born of a woman to redeem sinners and deal a death blow to the devil (Genesis 3:14-15). The Bible then traces the fulfillment of this promise throughout its pages. In God’s perfect time and manner, He sent his Son into the world to live a sinless life on our behalf and die a sinner’s death in our place (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus never sinned, but He died the death that every sinner deserves and resurrected three days later. As a result, all who now turn to Him in repentant faith receive the righteousness of God gifted to their spiritual account (Romans 5:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21). One day in the future, Jesus, the king of Kings will return to right all wrongs and put an end to our suffering by ushering us into God’s eternal presence. Until then, the Word of God assures us of His comfort.
COMFORT FROM THE TRIUNE GOD
Personally, I did not come to know Jesus as my Savior and Lord until several years after the deaths of my grandfather and uncle. So, I didn’t understand then how God comforts us in our affliction. But now, by sitting under biblical teaching and experiencing God’s grace mediated through His people, I can confidently tap into the comfort of God.
The Bible tells us that God is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and all three persons of the godhead go to work for His children when we suffer. Therefore, when grief overshadows your soul, you can run to God for help and comfort. The heavenly Father knows all your needs and is aware of every loss you go through in this broken world (Matthew 6:8, 32). The Son of God is your compassionate High Priest who understands human weakness and prays for you at the right hand of God (Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25). In Christ, the Holy Spirit becomes your helper who unites you to Jesus by faith and prays for you, especially when the hurt and confusion are so real that you don’t even know how to pray (Romans 8:26-27). Yet, God has provided an even more tangible means of comfort—His people. Fellow Christians may serve as God-with-skin-on, in the sense that they administer His grace to us in tangible ways in times of grief.
COMFORT FROM THE WORD OF GOD
One of the chief means by which the Spirit brings lasting comfort in our times of sorrow is Scripture. For example, the psalmist testifies, “He sent out his word and healed them” (Psalm 107:20). Since the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who breathed the thoughts of God out to men who then recorded them in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:11-13), He employs these same words to minister healing truth to our hurting hearts. The Spirit illumines our minds and sheds light on the promises of God and their application to our various trials and suffering.
Jesus assures us of this confidence as well. Shortly after He announced to the disciples that He would leave them soon, they expressed much grief. In response, Jesus assured them He would send them another helper, the Spirit of truth, who would remind them of Christ-centered truths that would bring peace to their hearts (John 16:12-14). As a follower of Jesus, the Spirit’s never-ending presence will strengthen you and deliver the comfort of God’s healing words. Scripture is a healing balm to the pain of grief and will strengthen your trust in God.
COMFORT FROM THE FAMILY OF GOD
God never intended for any of us to go through life’s challenges alone. As the Father, Son, and Spirit have enjoyed perfect fellowship from eternity, so they created us in their image and for relationship.
Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve walked with God in perfect harmony, but sin disrupted their peace. So, the Creator implemented His plan to resolve the root problem we caused. The Creator became the Savior, and God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. He became Immanuel—God with us—so that we could live with Him forever. Through faith, Jesus reconciles us to God. But the Spirit also immerses us in the body of Christ; He secures for us a relationship with all believers everywhere. God adopts us into His family.
What does all this mean? It means we need each other. It means we don’t need to go it alone. Why? God created us for relationship—first He designed us for a relationship with Him. But second, as a byproduct of spiritual redemption, we are now part of a spiritual family whose members are called to comfort one another. This comfort finds its simplest and most beautiful expression in the family relationships of the local church. You are not alone. In the family of God, you can experience soul satisfying comfort from brothers and sisters committed to doing life with you.
Regardless of the various depths of pain and the kinds of loss we may endure in this life, God will meet us in our times of grief. Through Scripture and His people, God will comfort our hearts and nurture our faith.
Questions for Reflection
- What kinds of losses have you experienced in your life? Which has been the most difficult for you to accept?
- What emotions did you experience when you first received the news? If considerable time has passed since then, how are your emotions different now?
- What ways have people helped you to work through your grief?