Grieve, but Not Without Hope

Posted on May 18, 2012 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Devotional Reflections

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do those without hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Attending the funeral last week of Fran Buckley reminded me, in the unavoidable emotions I experienced, of the unique Christian perspective on death. Fran, with her husband, R.T., served for more than 30 years as missionaries in Bangladesh. It was our privilege to work with these dedicated missionary colleagues and personal friends from Mississippi.

Earlier this spring Bobbye and I participated in the funerals of both Win and Laverne Applewhite, fellow missionaries from Indonesia who mentored and encouraged us when we arrived as novices. We joined Matt Bristol in grieving the passing of his wife Betty after a long struggle with cancer; after retiring from government service, the Bristols served in Central Asia and then both worked alongside us on our IMB staff for many years. All were an inspiration in their love for the Lord and devoted service to Him.

We grieve the loss of the earthly fellowship and privilege of visiting and sharing with these we had known so long, but in each situation their passing was a time of reflecting on immeasurable blessings and celebrating their lives. There were tears, but Fran’s funeral was punctuated with laughter as family and friends recalled her distinct personality and the joy she brought to everyone around her.

Our grief was offset by the confidence that God has prepared for this moment when our earthly pilgrimage is finished. He has prepared a glorified place for those who know and follow Him. He had provided complete healing for those who endured deteriorating health in their final years. He has clothed in immortality a new, restored body to those who became frail in body and mind in their latter years. What joy and comfort this brings as the assurance of eternal life and entering into the glorified presence of our Lord more than compensates for the grief of losing a temporary earthly relationship.

We, along with the Buckleys, Applewhites, Bristols and others have lived among people who have no hope. In fact, that is why these and multitudes of others give their lives to take the gospel around the world—so that those with no hope can find the assurance of eternal hope in Jesus Christ. We have witnessed the wailing and morning of those who have no assurance of life after death. In some cultures professional mourners are hired to enhance the expressions of grief.

When we lived in Thailand we were reminded of the futility of life without any concept of God and the belief that only endless reincarnations might one day bring enlightenment. Buddhist priests would encircle the casket of the deceased chanting, “Dead, never to arise; gone, never to return; asleep, never to awaken.” What grief!

Yes, we grieve when a friend or loved one is gone; we miss the communion and fellowship that meant so much to us over the years. But we don’t grieve as those without hope. Hope is not wishful thinking that we have the right theology but absolute assurance of a better life, an eternal life where there are no more tears, crying or pain. We balance our grief with rejoicing for the future we have in Christ.

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