The losses continue to stack up, don’t they?
There is, of course, the general sense of loss right now. Loss of routine, loss of opportunity, loss of mobility. That’s the “top of the funnel” loss that everyone feels. But it doesn’t stop there. It moves down the funnel to be ever more specific.
It’s the loss of vacations. Loss of income. Loss of a kid’s baseball season. Loss of personal interaction. And yet it goes even further down for some of us. The loss goes all the way down to actual, real names. Names of people. Loss brings sadness. Of course, the degree of sadness is varied depending on how deep into the funnel you are. But there is a measure of sadness for all.
Christians do not do well with sadness. It’s like we have come to believe at some point that sadness and joy cannot co-exist with one another. But they can. They can in the same way that fear and courage can co-exist; that longing and contentment can co-exist; that faith and unanswered questions can co-exist. Unfortunately, though, we as Christians have the tendency to rush past the sadness or the fear or the longing. We have a seeming inability to sit with these things – and even to know that these things are valuable.
But here is a season in which it is entirely right for us to be sad. To do otherwise is to deny the reality of what’s happening around us. This is not the time for us to plaster our hearts with platitudes, but instead to acknowledge the reality of the longing, sadness, and grief we feel.
So, Christian, be sad during COVID-19… but be sad differently. To help us do that, reflect with me on the words of Paul:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
These believers were sad. They were grieving. And Paul wanted to bring some clarity into their grief.
Paul could, I suppose, have exhorted these believers that in light of the reality of heaven, that grief itself is wrong. “Do not grieve” he might have said. But he didn’t. Rather, Paul knew there will be grief, and grieving is not wrong. After all, the Lord Himself wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:35-38).
It is comforting to know that the Christian does not need to repent of his or her tears; the Christian has no need to apologize for their feelings of loss. The Christian, whose bonds with others in Christ should be the strongest of all, should grieve even more deeply at the loss of someone else.
Grief is not wrong, but Christian grief is uniquely different from “those who have no hope.” Christian grief is a transformed kind of grief. There are a couple of ways, I believe, that Christian grief is indeed unique. It’s unique in that we understand that the true source of grief is not random events or diseases, but the condition of sin in which we and the rest of the world are in because of our rebellion.
But it’s also transformed because we know death is not the end. The gospel has made a fool of death, in that the thing which is the result of our sin has become the doorway to life everlasting with Jesus.
In our sadness, then, we should know first of all that it is not wrong, but secondly, that our sadness is informed – and therefore transformed – by the gospel. But Paul wasn’t done yet, for there is still another way that sadness should look different on Christians. That is, our sadness is meant to be shared.
Our tears are not meant to be kept between us and our own souls; rather, we are to “encourage one another with these words.” That’s not to say private grief is wrong; surely there is a time for grieving alone. It is, however, to say that if we never share our grief with others, we are being disobedient to the commands of Scripture and, in a way, are being selfish with our pain.
These are truths that are meant to be stated and then restated and then restated again. Because we are forgetful in our sadness, we should bear the burden on behalf of each other in remembering these principles. And when we do, our tears of grief will not be like those who have no hope, but instead transformed, temporary, and communal.