The other day a skeptic friend of mine posed an interesting question. As we were reflecting on the Christian hope of heaven he asked, “Do you suppose that for the person who believes that death is not the final word, the level of grief is diminished when they lose a loved one as compared to a person who doesn’t believe in life after death?”
I had never really thought of that question and it caused me to do a considerable amount of reflection. Over the years, as I have been with families who have lost loved ones, I have witnessed a very wide spectrum of responses. It has not been my experience nor is it theologically sound to say that having a vital Christian faith lessens a person’s emotional connections in the world. With that said, I believe that grief is grief whether one believes in life after death or not.
I think there are two other thoughts that are very important to this subject.
First, just as the first disciples were able to make “sense” of things after seeing the risen Lord, having a belief in a beautiful, eternal heaven and the abiding presence of Christ gives Christians a way to see themselves through the grieving process. Having a deep faith is an inoculation against bitterness, despair and hopelessness, which can so easily grow in the soul of a grieving person.
Second, I believe that having faith in Jesus gives one a deeper connection to all living things, especially people. This connection heightens the God-given emotional bond. The saying, “I feel your pain,” is especially appropriate for people who are living by the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). So my answer to the initial question posed by my friend is that I believe Christians have been given the gift of God’s love through the Holy Spirit and potentially experience greater pain for the suffering in this world.
Thanks for your patience as I have veered into some mystical musings,