I have been to many funerals. Funerals are the most dreadful thing for most people, because if nothing else, they impress upon the attendees the fragility of life and the finality of one’s meeting with the great beyond. As mourners sing “Amazing Grace,” families weep, and friends bemoan the loss of one of their own, the last thing that goes through everyone’s mind is “that’s going to be me one day.” Or perhaps, they contemplate the loss of another loved one next to them. At any rate, the finality of death is a specter hanging over everyone in attendance.
The hardest part for me is knowing what to say. The angst of the sufferers is etched upon their face, tears streaming past reddened cheeks, resolute determination to make it through the next few moments to face the aftermath of a funeral. Too difficult, it is, in my opinion, to dish out pleasantries to the mourning, such as is the custom of most Christians. More often than not, I sit quietly, feeling my own anxiety from the moment and not really in a position to comfort the suffering.
Why do we suffer from sickness and disease? Why do our lives slowly succumb to the inevitable march of time, until sickness, disease, and fatigue rob us of our abilities? Why do we suffer the pain of watching loved ones lose their facilities, their abilities, their health, eventually their very lives? Why do we have to watch ourselves go through the same things? Why am I losing my hair, why does my body hurt more than it did 10 years ago, and how long will it be until it is my time to succumb to disease and death? WHY???!!!!
The theological reason is this: Adam and Eve chose to defy God, and by doing so, doomed all of us to an eventual physical death. Adam made a choice to defy God, the same choice all of us would have made. In the words of John McArthur, we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners. Because of our inherited depravity, we all are guilty of failing God and His standard, and as such, are destined for the grave.
How do we comfort those who are mourning death and disease? We comfort them by first loving them and realizing that we will eventually occupy both possible roles, mourner and mourned. The second thing we do is tell them the next part of the story.
You see, our history of redemption did not end with a fruit in a garden. Our history of redemption took a long trip from the heart of God to a rugged wooden cross on top of a hill in Jerusalem. As one man doomed us all to death (again, not that any one of us would not have made the same gaffe), one man, the LORD Jesus Christ, saved us all through His offering of Himself on the cross. Jesus’ death was offered to God as a sacrifice, a fragrant offering pleasing to the LORD, and through it, all men have found salvation from the grave. True, we will all face death, but even death itself has lost all sting due to the sacrifice of Jesus. If we are willing to accept His death as payment for our sins, He is faithful to deliver us from death into eternal life. Indeed, as Paul says,
“the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:22-23 NASB)”
We are all waiting for restoration, a restoration that God has promised and that has been delivered by the person of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. It is a restoration that became part of His plan from the beginning of His plan. It is a time when God will remove suffering from our lives, when we will be granted eternal health, when we will no longer be slowed by diseases that seem to strike cruelly and unfairly, nor will tragedy and malady strike down youths in the spring of their existence. Instead, we will live in a truly brave new world, with the LORD as our light, and with the Son as our eternal King.
How do we comfort the mourning? Comfort them as Jesus would. Let them know you love them, that they are not alone, and that they are on your heart. Then, let them know the second part of the story: Jesus conquered death for us, and though it is scary, it doesn’t need to carry the same weight of finality that it does for those who do not have the hope of Christ.