‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me….’
The terrible anguish of losing someone we love is something almost every person goes through. It is the love they shared that makes the death so hard to bear. Being a Christian does not shield a person from the sadness of bereavement and the sense of loss. It is not wrong to grieve. It is not a sign of physical or spiritual weakness or failure. But in the midst of pain, Christians have hope and comfort to help them as they grieve. Christianity teaches that God knows all of humanity, right down to the numbers of hairs on our heads. In one of his most famous passages of teaching, Jesus Christ talked about grief. In the Bible book Matthew he says ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted...’ To be blessed is to experience a deep sense of peace and joy. Jesus is implying that God cares deeply for everyone and hears all who call out to him. The Bible book, Psalms – a collection of songs and poems written around 3,000 years ago – includes a passage often quoted at funerals: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me….’ Centuries later Jesus also told his followers that he would never leave them – that he would always be close.
Jesus’ personal grief
Jesus understood the pain of bereavement because he experienced it personally. He was close friends with two sisters and a brother – Mary, Martha and Lazarus. When Lazarus died, the sisters took Jesus to his tomb. Standing outside, he wept at the loss of his friend and the pain the sisters were enduring. But central to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus defeated the power of death over humanity because although he was executed, he rose from the dead after three days. The Bible book John records what Jesus told Mary and Martha: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die...’ Christianity teaches that death is not the end of the human story, that those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow his teaching have the prospect of eternity in heaven with God when their life on earth comes to an end. For a Christian immersed in the pain of bereavement there is the comfort and consolation that death is not the end and there is also the prospect that they will see their loved one again.
Christianity teaches that death is not the end of the human story
Church help for the bereaved
There are no short cuts to the process of grieving, even for those who have a belief in heaven. For most people there are phases of shock, denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and hope. These enable those who mourn to readjust to the world without the person who has died. The Church and other organisations offer support to people going through bereavement. Grieving people will often talk to Christian leaders or friends about faith. Experiencing the death of someone close will often provoke conversations about spiritual issues and concerns which are usually not spoken about. But Christians should take care not to use the situation to manipulate someone into a religious response.
If you are personally affected by bereavement, you may wish to visit www.ataloss.org