What Can a Pastor Say to the Grief Stricken?
Once again America is shocked by the barbarism of one who runs quickly to shed innocent blood (see Isaiah 59:7). And once again parents, spouses, lovers, and friends are forced into a grief-processing crisis not of their own choosing. It comes like a whirlwind, in moment when time stands still. Souls are scarred by an event that will never leave their minds.
In my first week as a pastor of a church of 35 attendees, I was called to a local hospital. I entered and was directed to a small family there at the chapel. I introduced myself as their new pastor (whom they had yet to meet). Before my introduction was complete, the doctor entered the room and said, "Mrs. Jackson, I regret to inform you that your husband has expired." All eyes opened wide. Breath left every chest. Stirring guttural noises that became mourns enswathed Mrs. Jackson and her three children.
Immediately Mrs. Jackson fell upon my shoulders. Over and over she wailed, "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?" Never had I felt so unprepared for an event. "There, there now, it'll be OK." I couldn't say that. Nor could I say, "Well, we can all rest assured that Mr. Jackson's death is in God's perfect will." All I could muster was, "Mrs. Jackson, I'm so sorry. I'm so very sorry." That was all I could say.
We can't deny that God really is in control. He is indeed strong enough to eradicate all evil and hurt from the world. In fact for His children that is exactly what He intends to do in eternity. He is strong enough to remove evil, but He hasn't done that yet. God is good enough to desire that human suffering be brought to an end. He knows what it feels like, because His own Son died on the cross. Knowing these truths about God, I also believe He watched from His place in heaven as the horrible events took place.
In the aftermath of so terrible an event, we stop and gaze into the eyes of the grieving. We don't know, nor do we want to know, what it feels like to suffer that kind of loss. We may prefer to offer our lives rather than see loved ones cut down. Some of those victims did just that. The ones who survived because another shielded them from the bullets will more easily understand what "vicarious" means when used in relation to the death of Jesus.
Can we learn anything from this event that will help us?
- There are people in our community who feel alone in the world. Perhaps we can help dispel the loneliness.
- There are people who are simply evil.
- Thousands die at the hands of murders each year - people for whom we never shed a tear or offer a thought. We can remember to mourn for the thousands as we do for the one.
- We are not ultimately entitled to life. It is a gift from God and it might be taken away tomorrow. So, live today.
- The precious love of a spouse, children, and grandparents may not be available to us tomorrow. So, embrace your loved ones today.
- Realize you may not have long to serve God. So, serve Him today.
- Those without Christ may not be here tomorrow. So, share the gospel with them today.
Finally, we should find comfort in the words of Jesus: "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world" (John 16:33).