As a flower comes forth and fades away, time has taught me that this life is short of days and full of trouble (Job 14:1), and trouble comes not without heartache. Within the last couple of years, my heart has ached more than ever. I have preached the funerals and stood by the gravesides of individuals I once viewed as permanent fixtures that would never disappear. Time has taught me differently, and my longing for Heaven grows daily. This is common ground that we share with all of God’s creation.
I remember the words of Paul, to the brethren in Thessalonica, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “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.” At the core of his admonition, Paul encouraged the brethren to grieve with hope still in their hearts, contrasting with those without hope. Grief is one of the most powerful emotions humans can experience. Grief holds the power to sway our souls and redefine our purpose. For some, grief leads to a renewed sense of purpose; for others, it leaves more questions than answers. In John 11, we find a helpful reminder of how Christians should move through grief. While the five stages of grief do not describe most people’s emotions adequately during immense loss and were never meant to apply to the bereaved, these five stages can describe the emotions of those who knew and loved a friend of Jesus named Lazarus, which led them to a conclusion in their grief that was pleasing to God.
Stage #1: Denial. After hearing of the death of Lazarus, the disciples said to Jesus, “…Lord, if he sleeps, he will get well” (John 11:12). At first, the news of his death found the disciples in denial. In grief, many say, “This cannot happen to me!” To make necessary preparations for eternity, we must believe in the declarations of the scriptures that death is inevitable.
Stage #2: Anger. Martha told Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). In our grief, we look for someone to blame. Often, this blame falls on the shoulders of God. The cause of our pain and sorrow has a three-letter name, not God, but sin. Yet, many allow their grief to turn them to sin, not God.
Stage #3: Bargaining. Martha continued, “But even now, I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” To control the uncontrollable, we bargain with God. We say, “God, if you answer my request, I promise to….” Always remember that God requires more of you than you ask of Him. Are you fulfilling your end of the bargain?
Stage #4: Depression. John records, “Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus knew more about death than anyone present, yet He mourned the loss of a friend. Many have gone through depression after a loss, but we must remember that God still has a purpose for our life.
Stage #5: Acceptance. Martha told Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Many work their entire life to get to the point of accepting a traumatizing event or loss. We must remember that whatever comes to pass will be ok anyway. Though she could not control the uncontrollable, her hope and faith gave her relief in her grief.
Let us not sorrow as those who have not to hope but declare, “I know that they shall rise again!”