To be a Christian is to trust Christ. It doesn’t mean for one moment that we are shielded from the pain and chaos of life under the sun, but it does mean that in it all we have a friend and a saviour to walk with.
Hope in the English language has come to be something of a ‘flimsy’ word. We talk of ‘hoping for the best’ or we say simply that ‘I hope so,’ meaning ‘I’m really not sure, but I’d like it to happen.’ This is different from how the word is used in the Bible. Biblically hope means ‘certain expectation’ rather like how, during advent, we hope for Christmas. We know it’s coming, we wait for it with anticipation and we prepare for it all the while expecting it to occur.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul writes to the church and says that we ‘do not grieve as others do, who have no hope.’ Christians grieve, but not as others do. We grieve but our grief is not disconnected from our hope. We are to enter into our grief, not ignore or it pretend it away but we do so knowing that a loved one who has died in Christ is not lost. The person may be ‘lost to us’ but they are not lost to God, he knows exactly where they are.
Paul describes death as ‘being with Christ’ and says that this is ‘better by far.’ When the thief on the cross put his hope in Jesus, the Lord said to him ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. Today, in that very instance, immediately without a delay.
Our culture doesn’t talk much about death, it pushes it to the margins and it likes to carry on with life pretending that death won’t occur. It does occur however and it will occur to each of us, that much is certain. As a result of the way our culture treats death, we can’t expect to be helped much by our upbringing when it comes to thinking about death.
In the Bible death is a departure, it is a defeated enemy that has been and is being placed under Jesus’ feet. Death for the Christian is described as being ‘gain‘ and is talked of as being a servant that takes us into the presence of our saviour. People in Christ who die don’t ‘pass away’ as though they slip into some shadowland. Biblically speaking a Christian who dies has ‘fallen asleep‘ and is awaiting the final resurrection and restoration of all things.
In the Old Testament when King David experiences disaster it says of him that he ‘strengthened himself in the Lord.’ When loved ones die and when we experience disaster we must do likewise. We are so used to listening to ourselves and listening to our circumstances that we could all do with a healthy dosage of speaking to ourselves and our circumstances from time to time. To strengthen yourself in the Lord looks like declaring aloud the truth of God’s word and the theological reality of death for the Christian.
Try reading the following aloud as a way of strengthening yourself:
Father I renounce the lie that this life is the end and that my friend is lost. Instead I declare the truth that they are with you and delighting in your presence. I renounce the lie of doubt that wants me to spiral into despair, instead I declare the truth that you defeated the power of the grave when you rose again on Easter Sunday. I choose to stand on these truths that you are a Father who loves us, a general with a clear plan in his mind, a King with absolute authority and a shepherd who leads us through disaster. Thank you that you identify with us in our grief and pain. You’re the only God ‘out there’ to whom we cannot say ‘you don’t know what it’s like,’ since you do know. You visited the funeral of a friend and you entered the grave yourself, triumphing over it for us. Thank you Lord. Please help me to trust you at this difficult time.
In Jesus’ name.