Last night I ran into a friend whose mother, at the spry age of 103, had recently passed away. I offered him my condolences, knowing that this sympathy was different from that for someone who died unexpectedly or at a young age. He proceeded to share about ten minutes worth of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and the accompanying details. I was surprised at how deeply these events seemed to have struck him, but then, on reflection, why should I be surprised? At 73 or 83 or 103, she was his mother. Nobody wants their mother to die.
This man is completely at peace with his mother’s current situation and with the assurance that he will be reunited with her at some point in the future, yet still he gets misty thinking about her last days and her absence. And so the question I’m left with is whether that response is appropriate. Is it right for Christians to mourn the loss of other Christians, especially when they have clearly lived a long life and the body is no longer cooperating.
In Matthew 5:4, Jesus helps us toward an answer:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Would Jesus have offered a beatitude for a behavior that is sinful or even just inappropriate? It doesn’t seem likely.
Toward the end of Revelation, we read this:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”–Revelation 21:4
The verb tense is important. He will end the mourning, the crying, and the pain. He will do it, but He hasn’t done it yet. Until He does that, I think it is fair to assume that there will continue to be pain, crying, and, yes, mourning. The Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:14 assures us, is the deposit or guarantee of our inheritance, but it is not the entire treasure promised us.
But what about 1 Thessalonians 4:13, you ask? (We’ll just pretend that you immediately thought of that verse and its reference, okay?) That verse seems to forbid mourning.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Yes, Paul could be read as saying “don’t be like those others and mourn,” but I’m inclined to read it as “don’t grieve in the same manner as those others who have no hope.” It’s not the grief but the sort of grief Paul criticizes. After all, Jesus did not condemn mourning, so why should Paul?
Our mourning, our grief is different from that of non-believers because our grief coexists with hope. Yes, we miss the departed person. Our lives are changed as a result of their departure. We mourn their absence, and we grieve that our lives are slightly diminished by their deaths.
As much as I try to be a spiritual man, as much as I try to remember at all times that this world is not my home, I still exist in the flesh. I will be reunited with my Christian loved ones into eternity, and eternity, I’m told, is a really long time. However, as much I remember that the farther pleasure greatly outweighs the nearer pain, I still have to live in this body of death and that body cannot help but mourn.