If they were polite, those who know me (outside of my writing) would probably say that I talk a lot. In reality, I probably talk too much, but there are certain situations when having something timely to say is a good thing. I’ve been told on multiple occasions when spending time with others in the hospital (when they were going through a medical procedure or recovering from anesthesia) that just having someone to listen to is helpful. Other times, a polite joke can lighten the mood in a tense situation, or a word of technical advice can help provide new options to someone who was stuck.
Still, there is one event that leaves me completely devoid of anything useful to say: when someone dies, and it is appropriate for me to pay my respects (both to the deceased and to his or her family and friends), I am typically at a complete loss for words. Yes, I usually search for some platitudes or positive comments about the departed, but there is really nothing that I can do to fundamentally change the feelings of loss and grief that others are feeling at that time. This is even worse when I’m close enough to those in attendance to share personally in their pain.
One day, after having had to pay my respects to two departed acquaintances in the space of two weeks, I came across this verse:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT
I am convinced that only God can grant peace in the worst of circumstances. Left to ourselves, and our limited view of the finite lives that we lead, there is little hope or consolation when loved ones reach the end of their mortal lives. Their absence leaves an empty place in our lives that can never be filled in the same way.
Still, there is more to the story: God, from a perspective outside of our corporeal lives here on this fallen world, sees beyond what we can grasp. Not only has He shared with us something to look forward to (eternity with Him, and how to reach that goal through Jesus, after we have fallen short on our own), but He also sees the overarching plan of history, and how each life influences others. This is the message of hope in which that Christians can find encouragement (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Yes, Christians still mourn and grieve for those who have passed on, but they understand the larger picture – of this life in the context of eternity.
However, there is more to the comfort that God gives us than just knowledge. He has given us the person of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings showed us what God was like, and whose resurrection proved that death has been defeated.
In addition, I believe that God sometimes imparts miraculous comfort, even beyond what we can find through reminding ourselves about God’s promises.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7 NASB
As the first passage above reminds us, when we have received comfort from God, we have an opportunity – and an obligation – to serve as an instrument of comfort to others. Whether sharing in someone’s pain after you have experienced something similar, or walking with them until the grief has subsided, we can play an active role in others’ healing.
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15 NLT
And, where our own abilities fall short, we can intervene on others’ behalf, asking God to give them the peace that they seek, or to give us direction as to the the words and actions that we can share to pass along His peace to those who need it most.
The fact that sin brought death into the world is a terrible, painful thing, and Christians are not immune to this. However, as God loves us in this fallen world, we can also show love to our neighbors who are grieving, as long as it takes until a divine healing process works its way through their lives and they see a glimmer of light again.