Bereavement!

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The way, the truth and the life!

So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. (Genesis 24:67)

Bereavement is a subject we seldom think about or address until it is upon us, and for some people too late. This was birthed as a result of a Christian friend of mine who lost her husband very suddenly. She was fine for a couple of months when suddenly she fell into an awful pit of depression. With pastoral and medical help over a period of about a year, she began to recover. She is now totally recovered. Since then another Christian friend has come to almost the same place. So this is a serious pastoral issue that needs to be addressed within families and churches. So that people are prepared for bereavement when it comes, as it most certainly will, to us all.

“Just as it is appointed for man to die once” (Hebrews 9:27).

Back in the day when our own children were younger, at meal times, now and again, not too often, I would raise the subject. I would explain, not in a morbid way, but factual, that Mum and Dad would not be here forever. The reason I began doing that was because very suddenly my wife lost her own father some years ago now. She had never experienced bereavement in her life before. It took my wife three years to recover. She wasn’t a Christian and neither was her father, she utterly devastated. So this is designed to help to prepare some at least for bereavement when it comes their way. Or maybe to raise awareness amongst some for the need to address the subject. I am writing of course from a Christian and a biblical perspective.

The text here in Genesis concerns Isaac. He loved his mother very much and he had spent a long time grieving over his loss. John Calvin says in his commentary that he should have been over his grief long since. Sometimes easier said than done? But now he has a new wife, Rebekkah, and he loved her (v67). This brought to him the comfort the consolation that he needed. Of course, some people remarry after bereavement and that likewise helps them, but that’s not for everyone. It’s not that Isaac didn’t mourn, I’m sure he did, or even that that had ceased now. For the sorrow of bereavement never really leaves us, we just learn to cope with it. When it is someone we love dearly the sorrow of bereavement is a grief that we just point blank refuse divorce from. Other sorrows we seek to be healed of. But this is a wound we feel duty-bound to keep open, to cherish, to brood over in solitude. Where, tell me, is the mother who forgets her infant child she has laid in the grave? Where is the child willing to forget a loving parent, such as Isaac here (v67). Or a very dear friend, such as king David.

“Jonathan…I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:25-26).

To accept consolation at the price of forgetfulness? No, that just will not happen.

1. The Darkness Caused by Bereavement (v67)
As the grave closes over our loved one the heart is crushed and the gateway, the entry closes. To all, to everyone, to all comfort, to all consolation. It’s because of the love, that’s what does it. The apostle Paul tells us that the greatest gift is love (1Corinthians 13:13). And love survives the grave, it doesn’t die with the loved one. And it has its sorrows and its delights. There are overwhelming bursts of grief which are calmed with gentle tears of recollection, memories that are both sweet and fond. Then comes the sudden anguish, the convulsive agony of the separation. It is akin to a roller-coaster ride. All that you loved most lies in ruins. Then it is followed by a time of pensive meditation, over days of loveliness. Who would want to, who can uproot such sorrow as this? There is a voice from the grave that is so sweet that we just do not want to silence. In remembrance, we turn from the living to the departed. It is love that refuses to be separation, even by death.

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire” (Song of Solomon 8:6).

Such was the affection of Isaac for his mother, it was not ordinary (v67). But now that loving heart is crushed, closed. No human voice can penetrate it. The darkness encloses, the light is gone.

“Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

It is the grief, the sense of loss that leads to the lack of or refusal to be comforted. Of course, this grief must be expressed and in the case of a departed Christian tempered by the word of God.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1Thessalonians 4:13).

Note how Paul here seeks to inform, instruct his fellow believers in order that ignorance or maybe superstition might be dispelled from their minds. A lack of knowledge can lead to all kinds of distressful thinking. And the only antidote to that is what God has revealed on the matter. Death for the believer is likened to sleep (1Thessalonians 4:13; Acts 7:60). A rest from one’s labours with the expectation of a glorious awakening in the morning of the resurrection. He or she is dead to the world but awake to God and glory. But the danger lies in being uninformed, not knowing. The apostle seeks to dispel any ignorance that would lead to wrong thinking amongst the Thessalonians, and us today. There is the danger of wrong beliefs regarding the dissolution of the body, pagan ideas for instance. The world then was as hopeless as it is now.

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 4:13).

This was once the case for the New Testament Christians, hopeless, no future. Dead is dead, end of. Religions of all sorts fair no better today than then. The false tenets of the Roman Catholic church with its purgatorial nonsense. If enough masses are held for your dearly departed they might just escape this purgatory. There is no mention of such a place in all the Bible. That is a doctrine of no hope. Then the paganism of Islam is little better. They may get to paradise if they have sufficient faith. Well, how much is sufficient? Then there is their concept of Paradise. Seventy virgins awaiting the men to satisfy their every carnal lust. For women? Who knows, not even they see to know. Pagan hopelessness. It is the gospel alone that gives hope to humanity in the face of death that must come to us all (Hebrews 9:27). We need the gospel’s perspective on death and the handling of bereavement (v67).

But the greatest darkness of all is someone dies in unbelief. Some uninformed and foolish people say hell, good. I will be with my own kind there they think. Again ignorance needs to be dispelled with what the word of God teaches regarding the reality of hell. People will not be partying there, enjoying the company of their peers. Such people need to understand what the Bible means by the word perish.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Their personalities will become more degraded than ever before, utterly contemptible. They will be more lonely than ever they thought possible. O yes, they will be surrounded by others, devils, the wicked, the damned. But here is thing needs to be understood, they will hate one another more than ever they hated before. Every ounce of goodness will be removed. If a person persists in unbelief they are treasuring up wrath for the day of God’s vengeance. But Isaac was not without hope, his mother was a godly woman, the length of his grief is somewhat inordinate (v67). The sorrow for the believer must be mitigated somehow, for there is a danger to be avoided.

2. The Danger of the Disconsolation (67)
The heart must needs be opened once more to the persuasion of the Holy Spirit. To mollify, to appease the grief. He alone can reach into the dark recesses of the soul and again illumine with his prophetic word and bring comfort to the bereaved.

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

We need to be aware of the danger for we have an adversary that lurks in the dark shadows. We need to do something to lessen, to moderate the intensity of the grief. Because he, Satan, the devil, will seek to provoke to intemperance, even to an impious murmuring or blaming of God for where we are at. As did Asaph of old (Psalm 73). He saw the prosperity of the wicked across the track. He thought he’d been given a bad deal, he cleansed himself, lived godly day by day but did not prosper as the ungodly did. Until that is, God took him into the sanctuary and revealed to him the end of the ungodly wicked. It was then he realised his was the better case, God was with him, held his right hand and guided him with his counsel and promised glory afterwards (Psalm 73:23-28). The devil will seek to subvert and undermine our hope the resurrection. We do not condemn Isaac here but he ought to have dealt with this a lot sooner (v67). We are all very human and very different to each other. We receive and deal with differing circumstances differently. But we must remember Satan is the prince of darkness, that’s his realm, where he operates, and he will do everything to keep you in darkness. He will make insinuations that will lead you to false conclusions if you allow him. He will seek to lay you lower still, and cast you into deeper darkness. Then he will turn and accuse you.

“For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10).

He will taunt you, “how can you be a Christian?” “Where is your Master’s comfort now?” He will take the truth you believe and distort it. One thing we need grasp is that any bereavement is a form of chastisement just as is the common cold. Every affliction is. The dearest of God’s servants at times walk in darkness.

“Though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

The trials and temptations are many, right to the end. But we must sever the work of God’s Spirit from the work of the devil’s. Lest we are swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. We need to be aware of Satan’s many schemes.

“so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

When he asks you in a time of bereavement, “whence this darkness, this sorrow?” Tell him, “get behind me Satan.”

Then there is the danger of our own hearts (v67). We are creatures after all and weak ones at that. When our minds are crushed and closed with grief remember that the God of all comfort is there, he has not moved one iota. What’s changed? We’ve been blinded by the grief. We need to remember we are saints, yes, but we still have sinful natures that will be a burden to us till we die. There is still that in us in those natures that are yet opposed to God. That even hate God and Jesus Christ. That would still claim the self-life. That nature can make us think this, God has no right to allow this! There is ever a war going on within the believer’s soul between two natures. We must understand the ferocity of this conflict, it is a fight to the death. But it must be fought.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17).

Bereavement shuts the blinds. I remember from my boyhood days in Glasgow we used to do this physically. I someone in the street had died, everyone drew their blinds out of respect. But especially so the home where the bereavement had occurred. Now I think there was a bit of useful psychology behind this. Because it lasted for a number of days, but then the time would come when the decision is made, time to lift the blinds, and let the light back in. In other words, it’s time for the living to get on with life. Well in bereavement something like this happens we mentally shut the blinds. And in the darkness, we can’t see the light of God’s love, grace or feel his comfort. But there comes a time when we must deliberately, consciously in faith, whether we feel like it or not, to lift the blinds. Let the light back into our souls. Think, others have gone before you, experienced this grief, even worse perhaps than you. King David for example.

“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7).

And Heman.

“For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Psalm 88:3).

Think of the Puritans. Many of them laid wife and bairns in the grave, children born in infancy, mothers in childbirth. You are not the first and you certainly will not be the last. When the time comes to lift the blinds, go and look for someone else to minister to. A good dose of self-forgetfulness is a great tonic. Believe me, this is no small matter. Our own spiritual health is at stake (v67). A person’s carnal reason is a desperate enemy of faith. There is so much in our modern society that militates against our faith. But faith is the conquering, the supreme principle. Our faith is a given, by God (Ephesians 2:8). But it is a gift to be used, and use it we must, especially at such a time as this. We must use to conquer, to bring down and destroy the wrong, the false reasoning.

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Your reasoning says I will never come out of this darkness, I will never smile again. But faith says “all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). Faith says I will walk again, I will smile again, I will rejoice again. By faith, you can muster the power of heaven. By faith, you can turn the darkness into light. By faith, you can command the darkness to go. Yes, that selfsame faith that once justified you in the court of heaven.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

3. The Deliverance from the Disconsolation (v67)
The means used to bring consolation to Isaac was his new bride (v67). When the Lord takes something or someone from us he sometimes replaces it with something or someone better. But that is not always the case. But in our state of grief, there is one thing we do have to remember and that is what our just desserts really are. Think about where we have come from. Bring to mind the pernicious unbelief from which God has saved us. The most malignant of all sins. We have to be convinced again of the strength, the sinfulness of that unbelief, shall we return there? Without faith, there can be no comfort. It is only the application of our faith that will bring the consolation we so need. A full-blown confidence in Jesus, the Son of God.

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).

Think of what you were saved from, the way he has brought you. Think of the life he has given you, the years of goodness, the mercy, the spiritual joy and happiness that were yours together. Such as you might never have known but for the Lord. Consider what we all deserve. And not just in times of bereavement, anytime we are afflicted, small or great. Our real desserts are a lot worse, the damnation of hell.

So you must consider and strive to focus on Christ and him alone. For all your hope and comfort is in him. He is the one who chose you, called you, justified you, and sanctified you. How? By his spilled blood and perfect righteousness. Even now his work is not finished, at the Father’s right hand in the glory of heaven he is interceding for you continually. Remember Jesus!

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).

Hold on to Jesus and ride out the storm! He will carry you through. He is the man Christ Jesus who in his humanity suffered as you are now perhaps. He was tempted, he experienced bereavement too.

“And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him” (John 11:34-36)!

He knows, he knows what you are going through, and he not only sympathises but empathises. At such a time when one of his own is going through such an experience, he turns to his Father and says, “I know what the child is going through, I’ve been there.” You have a Saviour who understands like no other. Are you walking in darkness, he has been there too.

“Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

He willingly walked into the darkness of the grave himself, no light. All he can see is the cross, infinite wrath descending upon him, his Father turning his back on him. Who will vindicate him, deliver him?

“He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up” (Isaiah 50:8-9).

So he says to you, “are you walking in darkness?” “Then walk, but walk with me, I’ve got your right hand, and I’ll never let it go, trust me” (Psalm 73:23-24). Lastly, take the time to consider the means by which God would bring comfort to you. And make diligent use of them. When we are crushed, in the darkness we tend to isolate ourselves, to shun all company. That’s the wrong thing to do, that’s when we need the fellowship of other believers more than ever. Some people seek to work themselves to a frazzle, others go to the other extreme. They won’t go anywhere or do anything. Our hearts, as well as our hands, need to be exercised to godliness. You recall when Elijah after the great conquest on Carmel was in a fit of depression? He was saying to the Lord, away with me, enough, I’m done. God told no, he wasn’t, he still had work for him to do. Dear suffering, bereaved child of God, he is not finished with you either, he yet has work for you to do. Perhaps he has touched you at your sorest point, but when he heals and binds up your wound, you will be stronger. You will be able to minister to others in ways you would never have been able to before.

So afflicted saint, whoever you be, grief-stricken friend, arise from the grief of your calamity. Allow it not to rob you of the comfort and joy purchased for you in the gospel. You yet have a glorious Redeemer, he died to redeem you from the curse of even bereavement too. Give all up to him, to infinite Love. Hold fast to your confidence. The word confidence comes from the Latin con-fide, with faith. Hold on to Jesus in faith, rejoicing in the hope of glory that one day will be yours too. Firm to the end. And let the remainder of your life be a full expression of grateful praise to God.

(© James R Hamilton, Summer, 2016)
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