Although Grieving, We Are Not Without Hope
“We do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.”—1 THESSALONIANS 4:13.
1. What does mankind experience on a regular basis?
HAVE you lost a loved one in death? Regardless of age, most of us have been saddened by the loss of a relative or a friend. Perhaps it was a grandparent, a parent, a mate, or a child. Old age, sickness, and accidents reap a regular harvest. Crime, violence, and war add to the misery and grief. Every year around the world, an average of over 50 million people die. The daily average in 1993 was 140,250. Death’s toll affects friends and family, and the feeling of loss is deep.
2. What seems abnormal about children dying?
2 Can we not sympathize with the parents in California, U.S.A., who tragically lost a pregnant daughter in a freak vehicle accident? At one stroke, they lost their only daughter and the baby who was to be their first grandchild. The victim’s husband lost a wife and his first son or daughter. For parents to suffer the death of a child, whether still young or older, is somehow unnatural. It is not normal for children to die before their parents do. All of us love life. Therefore, death is truly an enemy.—1 Corinthians 15:26.
Death Enters the Human Family
3. How may Abel’s death have affected Adam and Eve?
3 Sin and death have reigned as kings for some six thousand years of human history, ever since the rebellion of our first human parents, Adam and Eve. (Romans 5:14; 6:12, 23) The Bible does not tell us how they reacted to the murder of their son Abel by his brother Cain. For more than one reason, it must have been a devastating experience for them. Here, for the first time, they looked human death in the face, reflected in the face of their own son. They saw the fruitage of their rebellion and of the continued misuse of free will. Cain, in spite of warnings from God, had chosen to commit the first fratricide. We know that Eve must have been deeply affected by Abel’s death because when she gave birth to Seth, she said: “God has appointed another seed in place of Abel, because Cain killed him.”—Genesis 4:3-8, 25.
4. Why could the immortal-soul myth have been of no comfort after Abel’s death?
4 Our first human parents also saw the reality of God’s sentence on them—that if they rebelled and were disobedient, they would “positively die.” In spite of Satan’s lie, apparently the myth of the immortal soul had not yet developed, so they could not draw any false comfort from that. God had said to Adam: “You will . . . return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” He had made no mention of a future existence as an immortal soul in heaven, hell, Limbo, purgatory, or anywhere else. (Genesis 2:17; 3:4, 5, 19) As living souls who had sinned, Adam and Eve would eventually die and cease to exist. King Solomon was inspired to write: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6.
5. What is the true hope for the dead?
5 How true those words are! Really, who recalls ancestors of two hundred or three hundred years ago? Often even their graves are unknown or long neglected. Does that mean that there is no hope for our dead loved ones? No, not at all. Martha said to Jesus regarding her dead brother, Lazarus: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) The Hebrew people believed that God would resurrect the dead at a future time. Yet, that did not stop them from grieving over the loss of a loved one.—Job 14:13.
Faithful Ones Who Grieved
6, 7. How did Abraham and Jacob react to death?
6 Nearly four thousand years ago, when Abraham’s wife Sarah died, “Abraham came in to bewail Sarah and to weep over her.” That faithful servant of God showed his deep feelings over the loss of his beloved and loyal wife. Although he was a brave man of action, he was not ashamed to express his grief in tears.—Genesis 14:11-16; 23:1, 2.
7 The case of Jacob was similar. When he was deceived into believing that his son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, how did he react? We read at Genesis 37:34, 35: “With that Jacob ripped his mantles apart and put sackcloth upon his hips and carried on mourning over his son for many days. And all his sons and all his daughters kept rising up to comfort him, but he kept refusing to take comfort and saying: ‘For I shall go down mourning to my son into Sheol!’ And his father continued weeping for him.” Yes, it is both human and natural to express grief when a loved one dies.
8. How did the Hebrews often express their grief?
8 Some might think that by modern or local standards, Jacob’s reaction was exaggerated and melodramatic. But he was a product of a different time and culture. His expression of grief—wearing sackcloth—is the first mention of this practice in the Bible. However, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, mourning was also expressed by wailing, by composing dirges, and by sitting down in ashes. Evidently the Hebrews were not inhibited in their genuine expressions of grief.*—Ezekiel 27:30-32; Amos 8:10.
Grief in Jesus’ Time
9, 10. (a) How did Jesus react to the death of Lazarus? (b) What does Jesus’ reaction tell us about him?
9 What can we say of Jesus’ early disciples? For example, when Lazarus died, his sisters Martha and Mary mourned his death with tears and weeping. How did the perfect man Jesus react when he arrived on the scene? John’s account says: “Mary, when she arrived where Jesus was and caught sight of him, fell at his feet, saying to him: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping and the Jews that came with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and became troubled; and he said: ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him: ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus gave way to tears.”—John 11:32-35.
10 “Jesus gave way to tears.” Those few words speak volumes about Jesus’ humanity, his compassion, his feelings. Even though fully aware of the resurrection hope, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35, King James Version) The account continues by saying that onlookers commented: “See, what affection he used to have for [Lazarus]!” Certainly, if the perfect man Jesus wept at the loss of a friend, it is no shame if a man or a woman mourns and weeps today.—John 11:36.
What Hope for the Dead?
11. (a) What can we learn from Biblical examples involving mourning? (b) Why do we not grieve as do those without hope?
11 What can we learn from these Biblical examples? That it is human and natural to grieve and we should not feel ashamed to let our grief be manifest. Even when tempered by the hope of the resurrection, the death of a loved one is still a traumatic loss, which is deeply felt. Years, perhaps decades, of close companionship and sharing are suddenly and tragically ended. True, we do not grieve as do those without hope or as do those with false hopes. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Also, we are not misled by any myths of man’s possessing an immortal soul or continuing to exist by reincarnation. We do know that Jehovah has promised ‘new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness is to dwell.’ (2 Peter 3:13) God “will wipe out every tear from [our] eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
12. How did Paul express his faith in the resurrection?
12 What hope is there for those who have died?* The Christian writer Paul was inspired to give us comfort and hope when he wrote: “As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) The New English Bible states: “The last enemy to be abolished is death.” Why could Paul be so sure of that? Because he had been converted and taught by one who was raised from the dead, Jesus Christ. (Acts 9:3-19) That is also why Paul could state: “Since death is through a man [Adam], resurrection of the dead is also through a man [Jesus]. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.”—1 Corinthians 15:21, 22.
13. How did eyewitnesses react to the resurrection of Lazarus?
13 Jesus’ teaching gives us great comfort and hope for the future. For example, what did he do in the case of Lazarus? He went to the tomb where Lazarus’ body had been lying for four days. He uttered a prayer, “and when he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice: ‘Lazarus, come on out!’ The man that had been dead came out with his feet and hands bound with wrappings, and his countenance was bound about with a cloth. Jesus said to them: ‘Loose him and let him go.’” Can you imagine the looks of surprise and joy on the faces of Martha and Mary? How the neighbors must have been astonished when they saw this miracle! Little wonder that many onlookers put faith in Jesus. His religious enemies, however, “took counsel to kill him.”—John 11:41-53.
14. Of what was Lazarus’ resurrection a token?
14 Jesus performed that unforgettable resurrection in front of many eyewitnesses. It was a token of the future resurrection that he had predicted on an earlier occasion, when he said: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [the Son of God’s] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.”—John 5:28, 29.
15. What evidence did Paul and Ananias have of Jesus’ resurrection?
15 As previously mentioned, the apostle Paul believed in the resurrection. On what basis? He had formerly been the infamous Saul, persecutor of Christians. His name and reputation spread fear among the believers. After all, was he not the one who had approved the stoning to death of the Christian martyr Stephen? (Acts 8:1; 9:1, 2, 26) Yet, on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Christ brought Saul to his senses, striking him with temporary blindness. Saul heard a voice say to him: “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” The same resurrected Christ then instructed Ananias, living in Damascus, to go to the house where Saul was praying and to restore his sight. Thus, from personal experience, both Saul and Ananias had every reason to believe in the resurrection.—Acts 9:4, 5, 10-12.
16, 17. (a) How do we know that Paul did not believe in the Greek concept of the inherent immortality of the human soul? (b) What solid hope does the Bible give? (Hebrews 6:17-20)
16 Notice how Saul, the apostle Paul, answered when, as a persecuted Christian, he was brought before Governor Felix. We read at Acts 24:15: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” Obviously, Paul did not believe in the pagan Greek concept of the inherent immortality of the human soul, which supposedly passed into some mythological afterlife or underworld. He believed in and taught faith in the resurrection. That would mean for some the gift of immortal life as spirit creatures in heaven with Christ and for the majority a return to life on a perfect earth.—Luke 23:43; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 53, 54; Revelation 7:4, 9, 17; 14:1, 3.
17 Thus the Bible gives us a clear promise and a solid hope that by means of the resurrection, many will see their loved ones again here on earth but under very different circumstances.—2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4.
Practical Help for Those Who Grieve
18. (a) What helpful tool was released at the “Godly Fear” Conventions? (See box.) (b) What questions now need to be answered?
18 Now we have our memories and our grief. What can we do to survive this trialsome bereavement period? What can others do to help those who are grieving? Furthermore, what can we do to help those sincere ones we meet in our field ministry who are without any real hope and who also grieve? And what further comfort can we derive from the Bible regarding our loved ones who have fallen asleep in death? The following article will offer some suggestions.
For more information on mourning in Biblical times, see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 446-7, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
For more information on the resurrection hope found in the Bible, see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 783-93.
Can You Answer?
◻ Why can it be said that death is an enemy?
◻ How did servants of God in Bible times manifest their grief?
◻ What hope is there for dead loved ones?
◻ What basis did Paul have for believing in the resurrection?
[Box on page 8, 9]
Practical Help for Those Who Grieve
At the “Godly Fear” Conventions during 1994-95, the Watch Tower Society announced the release of a new brochure entitled When Someone You Love Dies. This encouraging publication has been designed to bring comfort to people of all nations and languages. As you may have already seen, it presents the Bible’s simple explanation of death and the condition of the dead. Even more important, it highlights God’s promise, through Christ Jesus, of a resurrection to life on a cleansed, paradise earth. It truly brings comfort to those who mourn. Therefore, it should be a helpful tool in the Christian ministry and should serve to stir interest, resulting in many more home Bible studies. The questions for study have been placed discreetly in boxes toward the end of each section so that an easy review of the points covered can be made with any sincere, mourning person.
[Picture on page 8]
When Lazarus died, Jesus wept
[Picture on page 9]
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead
[Picture Credit Line on page 7]
First Mourning, by W. Bouguereau, from original glass plate in Photo-Drama of Creation, 1914