Grief eventually comes more forcefully with the death of a parent, a brother, sister or friend. If we live long enough, it will come to each of us when we part with those we love most.
David, who wrote the Psalms, was famous for his grief over the death of his son Absalom. Even though Absalom led a rebellion against him seeking to unseat him from the throne of Israel, when David heard that Absalom was dead, he was inconsolable. He wept and cried, ““O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). On another occasion, when David grieved over the death of an infant son, he said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam. 12:23).
Confidence in Heaven and the resurrection does not eliminate grief, but it takes away the sting. That is why the Apostle Paul writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
A few years ago I visited a cemetery in old Boston where the tombstones date back to some of the earliest residents of The Colonies. I discovered an interesting pattern. Those grave makers erected before 1730 bore skulls and cross bones. They were the picture of death and despair. The markers erected after 1740 bore the images of angels and cherubim and were often inscribed with verses about heaven. The only event that could have made such a difference in the Boston markers is the Great Awakening that swept the Colonies in the 1730s and 40s. Benjamin Franklin wrote of the Awakening that there was a “wonderful...change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. … so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."
Grief as a believer in Jesus Christ is deep and real, but it is not a grief without hope. Even Jesus grieved when he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Although he knew he would call Lazarus from the grave and raise him from the dead, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” When Jesus wept, he demonstrated to us that God not only knows our grief, he feels it. We do not grieve alone or in isolation nor do we grieve without hope.
Knowing His followers would experience grief, Jesus spoke these words to them only hours before His own death, “Do not let your heart be troubled; [a]believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”