The Apostle Paul attempted to explain death and the afterlife in light of the work of Jesus to the Christians in the city of Thessalonica. His reason for doing this was,
…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Paul’s understanding of life was not shortsighted. He was under no delusion that no one other than Christians had any hope at all. People find ways of hoping and they find things to hope in. Those intrigued with politics place their hope in improved government policies and wiser statespeople. Those whose stomach has great influence over them place their hope in food security and the promise of better quality ingredients. Those who believe there is no God hope in the world’s ability to right itself through human solidarity and ethics that are still evolving into the fabric of our existence.
Paul knew that hope was not the exclusive property of those who followed Jesus Christ. But Paul also clearly believed that the hope which came from knowing Jesus, and from trusting in what He had done, was so profound that it left every other hope in basically the same category as no hope at all.
What this means is not that Christians do not grieve, not that we do not weep and not that we do not feel the sting of the sorrows of life. What this means is that when we grieve, when we weep, when we are stung we are not crushed or destroyed or lost in a sinking ship. It’s not that we don’t feel the same things as everyone else, it is that we do not interpret those things the same way as everyone else. Our grief cannot cripple our emotions because we believe that all grief will come to an abrupt end one day. Our sorrows do not have the power to control our lives because the Man of Sorrows has, through the resurrection, exploded the notion that sorrow has no end.
GK Chesterton said this,
Distracted as we are with civic mysteries and problems, we can afford to rejoice. Our tears are less desolate that their laughter, our restraints are larger than their liberty.
– GK Chesterton.
Beautifully the old British thinker provides us a way to understand grief for the Christian. Because of the resurrection, because of forgiveness, because of grace our worst moments are still richer and more promise-filled than the best moments of everyone else. This is not an arrogant indictment against non-Christians, it is simply the hope that organically grows out of the remarkable truth of the Gospel.
Keep encouraged. The rivers that seem so rough and turbulent on the surface not only run deeper and calmer than any of us expected, but they empty into the cool, clear waters of paradise. Every rapid, every rock and every struggle to keep our boat upright is evidence of the hope of the promise that God will keep.