5 Good Things to Remember in Times of Sudden and Excruciating Loss
What do you do when you’ve lost your job, home, spouse, or even a child—in a matter of minutes—due to a natural disaster, illness, crime, accident, malice, or negligence? When my child died suddenly in a skiing accident over twelve years ago, my family faced the overwhelming despair of earth-shattering loss with no warning. Even though it seems impossible to do when facing a tragedy, here are five good things to remember in times of great loss:
1. Believers will see their saved loved ones again.
Upon entering the room where my son’s body lay, my first thought was of wanting to pull him off the table and take his place. My second thought was the hope that he was in heaven with Jesus. This is the great hope Christians have when fellow believers die—that the separation is only temporary, and they will be reunited one day with their beloved brothers and sisters in Christ who are now with their Lord (2 Sam. 12:23; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Make the most of the time you have to teach your children and loved ones about salvation in Christ, since you don’t know how long you will be with each other on this earth.
2. It’s not just “stuff”—it’s okay to grieve material losses.
A house my family used to lived in burned to the ground in the recent devastating fires in Santa Rosa, California. When I saw the ashes of what remained in a satellite image, I burst into tears, even though I hadn’t lived there for over twenty-five years. It's almost impossible to imagine what it must feel like for those who have no time to gather even their most precious belongings as they flee for their lives in sudden disasters. A home is more than wood, brick, and paint—it becomes a part of our lives, and we make a lot of memories there. God has placed us in a material world, and it’s good to be thankful for the things he gives us—and fitting to mourn their loss when we don’t have them anymore (Job 2:13).
3. There is no time limit on grief.
It’s not easy for people to watch their loved ones grieve over the loss of a dear relative or friend. Sometimes we want to hurry the grieving process along out of love, but there is no time limit on loving and missing someone. You don’t have to move on; you do need to trust God and—when you are able to do so—try to make the most of the time he gives you to his glory in all things.
4. God is in control—even when he feels far away.
If you’ve lived long enough, you know from experience that some past events or circumstances that didn’t make sense at the time had a purpose after all and brought about some good. We see a clear example of this in the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis (see Gen. 37-47). Throughout the hardships and unfair treatment Joseph experienced, God was preparing him to save his family and the people of Egypt from the upcoming famine.
You don’t know what the trajectory of your life or the lives of your loved ones would have been if a certain event didn’t happen. We tend to assume that everything would have gone smoothly, but the sad truth is that many people fall into grievous sin and terrible circumstances later in life. God in his mercy also spares us from future misery to come:
The righteous man perishes,
and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
who walk in their uprightness. (Isa. 57:1-2)
Even though a certain event makes no sense at the time, we can trust that God has a purpose in all he allows, and we can rest in the knowledge "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
5. This world is not all there is, nor is it the end of the story—God has something far better and more glorious for his children.
The missionary Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” On this earth we have a taste of the goodness of God, but we also live in a world reeling from the consequences of Adam’s rebellion against his Creator. We hear about and see evil, destruction, and death occurring all around us—but it will not always be so.
Imagine the happiest and most joyful you have ever been and how it cannot even begin to compare with what God’s children will experience in the world to come—a new heaven and earth where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Great loss forces us not to hold too tightly to the things of this world and to remember that we belong to God. Our lives are in his hands, and he is sovereign—not us. That’s a good thing. In his sermon series “The Crook in the Lot,” the eighteenth-century Scottish theologian and pastor Thomas Boston reminds us that at some point we will see even our great sufferings in the light of God’s good providence and care for us:
Standing on the shore and looking back to what they have passed through, they will be made to say, "He has done all things well." Those things which are bitter to Christians in the passing through are very sweet when we reflect on them.
And the apostle Paul declares, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). We will have all the answers to our questions that God, in his love and wisdom, is willing to share with us. In the meantime, God has given us his word and Spirit to remind us that, even in the midst of tribulation, we have the peace and love of our Father in heaven because of Christ our Savior. We also have a glorious eternal home awaiting us that can never be taken away.