Facing Grief Now

In John 11 we find one of the most fascinating incidents in Jesus’ life. He hears that a friend, Lazarus, is sick and near death. Rather than go and easily heal the man, He tarries and Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally shows up on the scene, Martha, the dead man’s sister, comes to Him and gives a slight reprimand, saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But, she quickly adds, “whatever you ask of God, God will give You,” seemingly implying resurrection.

Now note how Jesus responds. He affirms that Lazarus will rise again, to which Martha replies that she knows he’ll rise again on the last day. Jesus then corrects her by pointing her from that future day to the day staring her in the face. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

This is a striking exchange in the middle of a striking passage. J. Vernon McGee said this about it: “[I]t makes less demand upon faith to believe that in a future day we shall receive glorified bodies than it does to rest now on the assurance that they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

It’s interesting how Jesus handles grief here. He seems to start off by giving a somewhat trite answer: “Lazarus will rise again, you’ll see him soon someday.” But that’s not what Martha wanted to hear. She knew there would be a future resurrection, but how could she handle her grief now? At this point, Jesus points her to Himself, drawing her hope to rest in Him, in the present day.

Grief is a tricky beast. Most Americans shuffle death/grief off into a corner and ignore that it happens (until a movie star or someone famous dies). Christians, feeling like they have to deal with it because they need to show the hope we have in Christ, often stay long enough to feel uncomfortable, lob out some trite cliche like a hand grenade about to explode, and get out of Dodge before the mourner has a chance to offer some depressing retort. A grieving person can find grief maddening not from the pain they feel but from the inadequate comforts that well-meaning people give. As Chuck Swindoll put it in a sermon, the reason we often don’t have real answers for people is because we “read our immortality message into every single scene…we’re too quick with the ultimate answers to feel the horror of the present pain.”

It is easy to try and wash the uncomfortableness of grief away in one fell swoop, but that’s not how it works. That is how you get punched by a mourner. Christians, of all people, should know perseverence, should know that Christ offers a resurrection now and gives comfort now. We should be able to sit with grief-stricken people where they’re at and empathize with them. There’s value in not being quick to offer the end-all answer but being silent with one grieving. Jesus is “God with us” today and not just in the future. Do you believe this?

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