“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Sometimes the testimonies of God’s grace are overwhelming. To see others worship God in the midst of their pain is amazing. Suffering of any kind is a harsh reality of life. Suffering that leads to death is an even harsher reality. I think the Bible speaks so much about suffering because of its prominence in our world. No one is immune to suffering and when it happens it’s easy to ask why. Why does a young child die? Why does death occur so suddenly that there’s no time for goodbye? Or why does a lifelong of suffering have to precede death? For that matter, why does death occur at all? Scripture helps us to know that death is not normal, but is a consequence of The Fall. But Scripture also helps us to know that for those who are in Christ, death ultimately brings life.
The emphasis of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is that although grief is a completely normal reaction to death, Christians grieve with the hope of knowing that one day a reunion with their loved ones will follow. The people in the church at Thessalonica were concerned that their loved ones who had already died would miss out on the Lord’s return. Paul taught them and is also teaching us about the proper perspective and response to death. This teaching should never be taken to mean Christians are not to grieve.
It’s a privilege to be able to see people live out their faith in difficult times. To watch them trusting in God’s promise that He works all thing together for good, to believe the truth that suffering can’t compare to glory, and to testify that there is a peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Romans 8:28, Romans 8:18, Philippians 4:7). Wow! To say it’s a privilege is not to say we wouldn’t have preferred them not suffer loss and have to grieve at all. It is only to say it’s a privilege in the sense of seeing the Holy Spirit do in and for them what only He can do.
One of the primary roles of the church is to strengthen the body of Christ. This happens when we’re taught God’s Word, but I think sometimes even more so when we witness it lived out. It happens when we see those who are suffering because of their loss, clinging to God and His Word, proclaiming not only that He is great, but that He is good, even in spite of the fact that so much of what has happened may tell them differently. This is the Spirit’s work. It is something those apart from Christ cannot know. I believe the Spirit of God uses these people to show others of us where we may be lacking in our own faith; while at the same time providing encouragement by storing up their testimonies in our hearts should our paths ever take a similar route.
God is so gracious. He is good all the time. Dig deep in His Word to know Him more. Don’t face the harshness of this world and the reality of suffering and death without Him at your side. Seek the peace and hope that He alone provides. One day death will come for all of us, but for those who have placed their hope in Christ; it’s really just the beginning.