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Good Grief


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep,
lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.

Working through the grief that comes with the loss of a friend or loved one is no easy thing. In terms of stress tests the death of a child or spouse tops the list. It is hard to go back to living after the death of someone we love. The regrets of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow make it hard to go on with today. In grieving we can be overcome with a sense loss and loneliness, which cripples our ability to cope. One's desire to live can die the death of a thousand cuts.

Yet despite those common feelings and fears associated with grief, it is possible to express "good grief." The kind of grief that begins to live with the memory of the loss, but not its pain! Paul advocates this kind of grief in his counsel to the Thessalonians. In addressing their heartache over the passing of those near and dear to them, Paul encourages them to sorrow as others, but not like others (1 Thess. 4:13). Their grief was not to be hopeless (1 Thess. 4:13). Their sorrow must not give the impression that death has the last word. Christ will have the last word when he returns a second time to call living and dead saints home to heaven (1 Thess. 4:16-17). The sadness they felt, was to be tempered by the thought that while death may hide it couldn't divide. Christians who have been separated by death will be together someday with the Lord forever which is a great comfort (1 Thess. 4:17-18). And because of this blessed hope, Christian grief is to be limited (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3). The grieving Christian must not hit the pause button on life because hope in Christ drives and draws them forward to a glorious future. Vance Havner, a Southern Baptist preacher of another generation, said something after the death of his beloved wife of thirty-six years that reflects this balancing act of sorrowing, but not without hope. He said, "I am still in the valley, but thank God, I am going through it; I am not wallowing in it."

How does one avoid wallowing in grief? Let me suggest several things that will help the brokenhearted to express good grief. First, practice your theology. Apply the truths of God's sovereignty, the hope of the resurrection, the comfort of the indwelling Spirit, the promise of heaven, and the sufficiency of God's grace to your situation. Work at bringing your faith and emotions together. Take control of your thoughts, and bring them into captivity to Christ and His word. Second, don't deny your feelings, and allow yourself to be honest with God in prayer. But in talking to God, remember while it is all right to ask questions of God, it is never right to question God. It is the Lord's right to give and take away. Third, extinguish any bitterness towards God or others. Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Submit to God, and reconcile with others. Fourth, commit yourself to growing and staying active. In the face of death, number your days and apply your heart to wisdom. Fifth, allow grief to fulfill love. After his wife, Joy, died C. S. Lewis found that for the first time he could love her in truly unselfish ways. Part of that involved setting aside his grief, and rejoicing in the gain that heaven was for her.