Monday, February 16, 2015

Finding Comfort When an Unbeliever Dies

My Bible study group this week was discussing a friend who was in mourning, and in the course of the conversation, we reached the topic of the death of unbelievers--namely, how believers can find comfort when an unbeliever dies.

Losing a loved one is devastating. For believers, though, we know that we do "not grieve as others who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We will meet our believing loved ones at the resurrection and worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with them for all eternity.

What happens when the loved one that died was not a believer, though? How can we possibly find comfort knowing that our dear friend or family member will not be with us in eternity?

There is no easy answer for this question, and most of us will struggle with it for our whole lives. However, keeping in mind the following points can help us from sinking into complete despair during this time.

Know that Christ grieves with us. John 11 records the story of the death of Jesus' friend Lazarus, and verse 35 says so simply, "Jesus wept." If Jesus wept at the death of even a believer that he would raise just a few moments later, how can we not be assured that he grieves with us at the death of an unbeliever?

Cling to the promise of the Word. God says in Isaiah 55:11 that His "Word shall not return to [Him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He] purpose[s]." While we should never claim that we know someone is saved if they were not a confessing believer, we know that the Holy Spirit works even to the moment of death. Even the thief on the cross was told, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) Find comfort and hope in the fact that God can change even the most hardened heart up to the last moment it beats.

Be assured of God's goodness.  We all deserve death as the punishment for our sin ("the wages of sin is death"), but God has provided a means for escape from death through His Son Jesus Christ ("the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.") (Romans 6:23We know from 2 Peter 3:9 that God "is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Even though there is pain and death in this life, God is not the author of it.

Look forward to the resurrection. "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5) While we are on this earth, we will always have the pain of grief and death. At the resurrection, with the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, we know sorrow and pain will no longer touch us. Revelation 21:4 says "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

If you are mourning the death of an unbeliever, let me pray with you:
Heavenly Father, we know that we are all sinners deserving of your eternal wrath and punishment. We thank you for your great mercy that you have not given us the punishment we deserve, but have saved us from sin, death, and the devil through the suffering and death of your perfect Son, Jesus Christ. 
We grieve today the death of a loved one who did not know you. We know that this was not your will, because you do not wish for anyone to perish. We thank you for the comfort of knowing that you are good and that you grieve with us. Help us to rest in your comfort and mercy as we travel in pain through this veil of tears, until you bring us to be with you and wipe every tear from our eyes. Amen.
*All Scripture references are from the ESV Bible.

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