This morning during worship we sang the hymn Amazing Grace. As we sang, I was touched and found new meaning in one of the verses:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come.
T’was grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Each of us has a laundry list of “war stories,” and I reflected on some that ended well only by the grace of God. God’s grace – amazing, immeasurable, and ever sufficient – has brought me safe thus far. And one day, whether through rapture or by way of the grave, God’s grace will lead me to an eternal home.
I believe it was God’s grace that ushered Chattanooga Police Sergeant Tim Chapin to his eternal home this week after a deadly shootout at a local pawn shop. In recent months, too many officers have died in the line of duty (one is too many). My heart has been torn this week not only by our loss, but also for my brothers and sisters who are grieving and visibly hurting.
During the week and at the funeral I made several observations. The first observation is that there is a noticeable difference between the way believers and non-believers grieve. The difference can be seen on their faces and heard in their conversations. Paul spoke of the difference in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 when he says that believers grieve, but not as those who do not have hope. The hope of believers is that Jesus Christ lived, died for our sins, and overcame death, hell and the grave when He rose again. He ascended to the right hand of God, and will come again to receive us. The promise of His coming is clear in John 14:1-3 – He has prepared a place for us and will come back so that we may be with Him.
My heart has been broken for those who grieve with such hopelessness and discomfort because they do not know Jesus. I heard a retired minister once say, “People want the peace of God, but they don’t want to make peace with God.” True peace, comfort, and hope during times of grief and distress come only in knowing God.
The second observation is we must understand that it is acceptable to grieve. My Captain in the department once said, “Do you know what it means when you cry? It means that you needed to cry.” Paul did not say that we won’t grieve, just that we don’t grieve as those without hope. Perhaps it is machismo or unfair labels that say we should not show emotion or admit when we are hurting, but God created us in His image as emotive beings. We feel sadness, so why do we condemn ourselves for expressing sadness? No officer has even been criticized, belittled, or condemned for expressing happiness or anger.
It is okay – healthy – to grieve. Even Jesus wept (John 11:35). John 11 relays the story of Lazarus. We often focus on the great miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, but neglect some very key parts of the message. Jesus and Lazarus were friends. They spent time together in fellowship and developed a close relationship. Jesus – the One who is the resurrection and life – knew that Lazarus would rise again both in this life and in the life to come. And yet, He wept. It hurt Jesus that His longtime friend suffered a terminal illness, experienced death, and lay dead for four days. It hurt Jesus that He lost someone so close, and that those around Him were also hurting. He didn’t simply offer a moment of silence. The proper understanding of the word “wept” is that of wailing, mourning, and shedding tears. One commentator even likened it to the description of a stallion snorting and stomping at the ground with great emotion.
Jesus wept such that those around took notice. To them, Jesus’ weeping did not signal weakness…just that He deeply loved Lazarus (John 11:36). Jesus cried because He needed to cry. We needed Him to cry so that we could better understand His humanity. We needed Him to cry so that we could better understand our humanity, and so we could understand that sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to show outward expressions of grief and sadness.
The third observation is, while each of us may grieve differently, none of us must grieve indefinitely. We do not grieve forever. For Paul, our grief ends in the fulfillment of hope when the dead in Christ will rise, those living are caught up to meet them in the air, and together we reign with the Lord. For Jesus, grief ended with the command for Lazarus to come out of the grave and for the trappings of death to be removed. For others, grief ends because the God-appointed season passes. Similarly to the way in which we wear mourning bands on our badges for a set period of time, God allows a season for grieving before carrying us into a new season.
Deuteronomy 34 is the story of Moses’ death. After leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian captivity and through the wilderness years, Israel’s great leader and prophet died. For thirty days the people of Israel remained in the valley of Moab for a period of mourning (Deuteronomy 34:8). Then, at the appointed time, their grieving ended and God nudged them into their destiny. Just as a loved one lives on in eternity, we too must “live on” in this life. Our loving God, through the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), brings comfort, healing, peace, and the ability to move on. We never forget, and we may revisit places of grief, but we do not grieve permanently.
To all of my brothers and sisters who may be grieving with me during this time, I pray for the comfort and peace of God to be with us all. If you have not made peace with God by asking forgiveness for your sins, I urge you to do so today. I want you to know that it is okay to grieve, and that together we will get through this. Just know that when your eyes are blurred with tears and your head hangs low in grief, I’ve got you covered. I know you’ll do the same for me.
“Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).