I enjoy listening to the teaching of a pastor in CA. The church is known for its emphasis on the supernatural ministry of Jesus Christ through His church. The church has experienced and recorded miraculous healings. Recently, the pastor’s wife died after a battle with cancer and many prayers for her healing. I listened to the pastor pour out his grief, tears, and broken soul. I wept with him. He preached a powerful message about loss, grief, and communion. I applied the ideas from his powerful message to chaplaincy and dealing with loss and grief.
My goal as a chaplain serving people who are grieving or mourning after a significant loss is to ‘usher’ them into the presence of God. God does the comforting. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” by the God of all comfort.
Any loss that produces grieving will lead a person in one of two directions, either into unbelief or the comforting presence of God.
Unbelief: Mark 16:9-13: 9Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. 12 After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. 13 They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.
The disciples were mourning and weeping over the death of their master and friend, Jesus Christ. Their grief led to unbelief. They refused to believe the testimonies. (They probably reasoned, “If Jesus is alive, then He would appear to us first.”) Why unbelief? They had lost all hope.
The Presence of God: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Hope is what makes the difference and leads mourners into the comforting presence of God. 1 Thessalonians 4:13: 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
The grieving of those who have hope leads into the presence of God. The grieving of those who have no hope leads to a heart of unbelief and they will not experience comfort from “the God of all comfort.”
So, my goal as a chaplain serving people who are grieving and mourning after a significant loss is to ‘usher’ them into the presence of God with hope. God does the comforting.
A story that perfectly illustrates this point is found in The Case for Heaven, chapter 5, “Heaven: A Guide” (pgs. 99-101). It’s the story of Sarah Salviander. Sarah grew up an atheist and earned a doctorate in astrophysics. She had physics professors who were Christians and influenced her to consider the truth of Christianity. As she studied the complexity and fine-tuning of the universe, she was awakened to the truth of Psalm 19. She put her trust in Christ, but a personal tragedy moved her faith from intellectual assent to personal trust and hope. Her first child, a girl named Ellinor, was stillborn. Nurses allowed her and her husband to stay in the hospital room and hold their deceased baby. Sarah bonded with Ellinor. Sarah said, “Sadly, what I had bonded with was a tiny lifeless body. Grief does a lot to twist our thinking, and as awful and crazy as it sounds, I felt like it was my motherly duty to be buried with Ellinor.” What rescued her from a twisted and depressed grief was hope, the hope of heaven. Sarah realized she could let go, and that Ellinor would be parented by her heavenly Father himself. She said, “Knowing she was safe in a realm of indescribable love, joy, peace, and beauty – and that this was the place where we would eventually be reunited – I was finally freed from despair. I experienced a vision of Ellinor’s body being gently taken from my arms by God and carried up to heaven, and that was the precise moment I had peace. There was no better place for her to be, and as a mother, that was the only way I could really let her go.”
A dark grief pulled her in the direction of despair and unbelief. Grief with hope lead her to the God of all comfort and healing.