When I visited baby Iris, I was greeted by her daddy, a young man whose wedding I had officiated. He escorted me to the isolette and asked, “Would you like to see our beautiful daughter?” I must confess that seeing this stillborn child was almost too much to bear.
After a deep breath, I silently prayed, “God, please give me a timely word for this dad.” I then looked him in the eye and stated, “One day, when Jesus returns with healing in his wings, the light of his presence will illumine the face of dear Iris. We trust that by God’s grace she will look at you with a smile as wide as the horizon and call you ‘Daddy.’ Now is the time for grief, tears, and indescribable loss, but the day is coming when God will wipe away our tears and make all things new.”
Does theology matter? In such moments, it means everything. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus conquered the Reaper’s claim, robbing death of its sting. The relevance of theology is most evident when we find ourselves staring at death. At such times it points us to God’s saving power.
Job’s three friends visited him after his children’s death and the loss of his health. They started well by joining their tears with his and then sitting on the ground for seven days and nights without speaking. Such empathy is always appropriate amid suffering.
“I am sorry” is usually the best response. “I know how you feel” is typically not. An arm on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek—these are the gestures that comfort. To simply be present, sitting quietly and available to listen, is perhaps the greatest gift that we can offer. Job’s friends managed to do this for a week. If only they had continued.
After an appropriate period of quietness during which the grieving person overcomes the initial shock of death, we then ought to offer an expression of hope. It may sound cliché to unbelieving ears, perhaps even presumptuous, but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provide the antidote to grief. In Job’s words:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth,
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25–27)
When death—the intrusive stranger—steps into our world to claim its due, we have no human recourse, no defense. The Grim Reaper’s scythe, however, only reaches so far. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus overcame the scythe, depriving the grave of its sting. For this reason, we may heartily affirm, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).