My dear dad died on 12 December 2014. He was 84 years and 6 days old. He had been suffering from dementia for a few years, so wasn’t quite the father I had known.
We enjoyed a warm friendship right up to his last day. I would be lying if I said that I don’t miss him and am not subject to bouts of sadness. Over the years I have experienced some deep losses, but until my father’s death I had never experienced bereavement of a close relative.
But does the Bible have any comfort to those in my condition (and we will all suffer such a loss at some time)? Yes it does!
When we struggle with bereavement, we can take comfort from three things.
First, according to the Bible, the day of our death is not accidental, but providential. It has been pre-determined by almighty God. It is like ‘a date written in his diary’. ‘In thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Psalm 139:16).
The absolute sovereignty of God is, truth be told, the only ultimate comfort for the soul. His eternal decree is fixed and unalterable; he ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11). ‘The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass’ (Shorter Catechism).
This being so, we will not die a moment too soon; just as we will neither breathe a moment longer than God has ordained. There is ‘a time to be born and a time to die’ (Ecclesiastes 3:2). A death in the family never takes God by surprise. He knows best; we may safely trust his providence.
Second, we are comforted by God’s salvation. For the Christian, death is nothing less than the door through which we enter into a richer, fuller life. It is the porter which ushers us into the nearer presence of Christ our Saviour.
We belong to Jesus. He procured our eternal salvation when he died on Calvary’s cross to atone for our sins. Hence Paul could write, ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ and ‘my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better’ (Philippians 1:21, 23).
You can be sure that once a Christian has tasted the bliss of God’s nearer presence in heaven, he or she will have no desire at all to return to this world with its sorrow and pain.
For the Christian, death is a matter of being ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8); awaiting the resurrection of the body on the last day when Jesus returns to bring in the new heavens and new earth.
But what if a loved one made no profession of Christ during their lifetime, as far as we know? It would, of course, be very preferable to have the assurance that such were Christ’s, and so now in heaven. Yet none of us know what happens in any person’s heart as death draws near — whether or not they have closed with Jesus Christ. So, when we are unsure of a loved one’s eternal state, we can leave the issue with God.
He knows what he is doing. His will, will be done. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25). No one who has ever lived and died will be able to accuse the Lord God of injustice or wrong. ‘The Lord is just in all his ways and kind in all his doings’ (Psalm 145:17).
It is the universal experience of Christians that the Lord God, in his mercy, draws especially near to us during times of sadness and trouble. ‘The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18).
The God of the Bible is a God of saving and sustaining grace. He gives us strength for each day and the ability to cope with the losses, crosses and difficulties, that he sees fit to send us in his providence. He is far too wise to make mistakes and far too loving to be unkind. We know this, because our gospel affirms, ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).
Grieving is a natural process which accompanies a loss. Yet, in our grief, we may know the solace of God as the ‘Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction’ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Jesus is a Saviour of the utmost sympathy who once wept at the death of a friend. The shortest verse of the Bible states ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35). And the Holy Spirit is known in the Bible as ‘the Comforter’ (Parakletos). He is ‘one called alongside us to help’, to strengthen and undertake for us.
The death of a loved one knocks away all our human props. ‘All other helpers fail and comforts flee’, but the Christian has a God to turn to. Through our tears, he will give us his solace and prove all-sufficient for our need, until the day comes when ‘he will wipe away every tear from their eyes’ (Revelation 21:3).
I thank God for the life and love of my father, John Cross. And with Job, I say, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’ (Job 1:21).
Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC (www.TimothyJCross.org)