Death is not a natural part of life as God intended it. It is the unnatural result of evil. And yet through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has removed the ultimate sting of death, which explains the appropriate sense of peace and triumph that accompanies grief at a Christian’s memorial service.
I’ve conducted funerals for both Christians and non-Christians. As I look into the eyes of those gathered, the tears are just as real for Christians, but I also see hope, perspective, and peace in the midst of their mourning. We haven’t lost our believing loved ones—we know where they are. And we know that in the resurrection we will live with God and with them on a New Earth.
For Christians, death is not a wall but a doorway. Death is not a last good-bye but a “See you later.” We grieve differently, yet honestly and openly, precisely because we look forward to our reunion and to a New Heaven and a New Earth (see 2 Peter 3:13).
Death isn’t the worst that can happen to us; on the contrary, for God’s children, death leads to the best. Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.… I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21, 23). Lest we think he was speaking purely by faith, the truth is that Paul himself had actually been taken into Heaven years before writing those words (2 Corinthians 12:1–6). He knew firsthand what awaited him in Paradise. He wasn’t speculating when he called it gain. To be in the very presence of Jesus, enjoying the wonders of His being, to be with God’s people and no longer subject to sin and suffering? “Better by far” is an understatement!
Yet this same Paul does not tell the Thessalonians that they should not grieve at all concerning their loved ones who have died. Rather, he writes, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)—they should not grieve in the same way, with the same bitter despair, that unbelievers have. But certainly they should grieve.
He assures them that Christ “died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10), and thereby encourages them that those who have died have gone to be with the Lord. That is why Scripture can say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth . . . that they may rest from their labors” (Revelation 14:13). In fact, Scripture even tells us, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
Therefore, though we have genuine sorrow when Christian friends and relatives die, we also can say with Scripture, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? . . . Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Though we mourn, our mourning should be mixed with worship of God and thanksgiving for the life of the loved one who has died.
In this video, a clip from my Eternity 101 class, I share a quote from Charles Spurgeon related to our loved ones who have died, and also discuss how it can’t be wrong to weep over death, since Jesus Himself did:
Jonathan Edwards, whose theology of sovereign grace Charles Spurgeon loved, saw no conflict between anticipating our relationships with God and anticipating our relationships with our loved ones in Heaven:
Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above. There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end. There we shall have companionship with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy. . . . And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!
What a world that will be—to live in rich eternal fellowship with the triune God and the great family of His redeemed. I’m overwhelmed just thinking of it. What a great God we’ll enjoy and serve forever! What a great time we’ll have together there!