Death was nonexistent in the original world. Adam and Eve’s choice to go their own way severed their life-giving relationship with God, shattering their security and resulting in a death sentence for all humanity.
The apostle Paul referred to Adam and Eve’s sin when he wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (romans 5:12).
We grieve because we live in a world plagued by sin and death. The infection of sin produces groaning in grief that grips our hearts and permeates all of creation:
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope (romans 8:22-24).
It’s this inward groaning for restoration that is at the core of our struggle with grief.
In the initial stages of mourning, rational explanations are uncaring and unconvincing. The soul is in too much pain to think rationally. However, believers in Christ who struggle honestly with loss must remember God’s promises—promises that provide desperately needed hope for the journey through grief.
What Can Never Be Lost?
God’s unshakable love. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” are simple lyrics that reflect profound spiritual truth—simple, yet not simplistic. That basic truth has kept me and many others moving through grief when nothing else could. The deepest expression of God’s enduring love for us was the incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus (romans 5:8). Whatever loss has forced us into our valley of grief, we can find confidence and strength in His unfailing love (psalm 46; romans 8:35-39).
God’s reassuring presence. Comfort comes from knowing that, though we are surrounded by death and the pain of loss has pierced our hearts, we are not alone. The rod and staff of Psalm 23:4 are the symbols of God’s presence and protection as we negotiate the treacherous valley of grief. Rarely is a satisfying explanation for our suffering and grief given. Rather, God shares our suffering through His suffering Son who is our faithful and merciful High Priest (hebrews 2:9,17) who never abandons us (romans 8:31; hebrews 13:5).
What Can Be Found?
Renewed dependence on God. “Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out on to it.”6 Followers of Christ who journey through grief and loss, often in time look back and thank God for a level of intimacy with Him that was previously unknown. Despite the lingering pain of loss, they have a more trusting relationship with God, for which they are deeply grateful.
Since the death of my parents, I’m closer to God than I’ve ever been before. I’m closer to Jesus who has made resurrection life possible for all who have trusted Him, whether dead or alive (john 11:25-26). I’m certainly more aware of how fragile and fleeting life really is and how deeply dependent I am on God. That knowledge renews my focus on what really matters in life.
Rediscovered purpose in life. For some, the journey through grief becomes a door to a new direction. Parents who know the pain of losing a child can sometimes find new purpose in reaching out to other grieving parents. Dave Branon, who lost a teenage daughter in a car accident over a decade ago, says, “This is not the ministry that I would have ever chosen, but it’s the one I have been given.” Dave’s experience led him to write a book, Beyond the Valley, and to speak openly about his journey through grief and loss. His journey has helped many grieving parents along the way.
I have spent countless hours counseling people who were grieving over a variety of losses. What I’ve found is that God uses my experiences of loss to connect more deeply with my clients in their losses. Whatever your loss, God may give you opportunities to share your story and encourage others on their journey.
Good from Loss?
When our world is rocked by the loss of a loved one, the thought of something good coming from it sounds absurd, even vulgar.But on a hill in Galilee, Jesus taught His followers that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (matthew 5:4). Our hope in sorrow is this: Grief over any loss can have a good effect if it brings us to the feet of the Savior, if it puts us among the multitudes who came to Jesus needing comfort and rescue because we believe that He is our only hope (4:23–5:1).
The unsettling reality is that loss and change are inevitably linked. Loss changes things forever. However, we are not passive players in that change; we get to decide how it shapes us, whether it makes us bitter or better. The crucible of grief and loss forges character. God wants to use even the most painful of circumstances to deepen our reliance on Him (romans 5:2-5). His goodness is revealed against the dark backdrop of painful losses in ways we otherwise may never have known.
Nicholas Wolterstorff describes it well:
To believe in Christ’s rising and death’s dying is also to live with the power and the challenge to rise up now from all our dark graves of suffering love. If sympathy for the world’s wounds is not enlarged by our anguish, if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, if commitment to what is important is not strengthened, if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is weakened, and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, then death has won.7
Death doesn’t have the final say. Yes, it’s the last enemy to be destroyed (1 corinthians 15:26), but Jesus, our hope, has crushed death in His resurrection (15:54-57). Therefore we have and can offer hope and comfort, looking forward to the day when we’ll never say goodbye again.
Until that day arrives, grieving with hope—hope of resurrection—frees us to enjoy life again. Remembering our loss will always cause pain and may at times move us to tears again (as writing this did for me). But the life-changing valley of grief also increases our appreciation for life and our anticipation of Christ’s return.
6 Wolterstorff, 76.
7 Ibid., 92.