Christian, you know how despairing the daily headlines are. But do you know how incredible your gospel is? Our gospel involves the resurrection of Jesus Christ culminating in the Second Coming and the resurrection of our bodies.
Interpreting the Headlines: Many of the people writing the headlines and many of the people publicly interpreting the headlines do not know the gospel. They do not have a God whose concern for the bodies and souls of his people is paramount. They do not have a God who governs every detail of life overseeing every breath and action of every creature! They do not know a God who is full of steadfast mercy and forgiveness. They do not have a gospel that finishes in a bodily resurrected people dwelling with God in a glorified creation with no more tears and death (Revelation 21:4). These details vitally color how we interpret our life. Apart from them, our daily news cannot help but obscure the full story. Christians must let God interpret the headlines. Never adopt a mindset that treats the death and resurrection of Jesus and all the associated blessings as if they never happened.
Desiring Justice? How is it possible that all human beings share the same grief sickness at the events of this week? What makes the world weep in unison in the aftermath of school shootings? Answer: God made human beings in his image as the apex of His creation. We may say we are not religious but we operate with categories like “good” and “evil” to understand events. These feelings must arise from our knowledge of our creator and the order He has imposed upon us. Therefore, the murder of human beings is an unspeakable evil. Knowing that human courts cannot bring back the victims or bring restitution for the losses, we grieve for human life (especially school children) as a priceless loss. Murders attack God, His justice, and His creation.
We all desire justice and a world that functions justly. However, this does not comport with any other worldview than the Christian worldview. If human beings accidentally arose by mindless evolution then why so much outrage? Why such powerful grief? Christianity gives an intellectually coherent reason for the universal grief we feel.
Christianity also provides justice. Apart from the biblical storyline of history, justice does not exist. Mad gunmen cannot just get away with wrecking families and communities. Without a resurrection to judgment where every human being will answer for his crimes or be clothed in the righteousness of a savior who endured justice, history will not end satisfactorily. So the world grieves without hope of justice for these terrible evils committed against our society. The world weeps knowing deep down that this is God’s world but not as it should be. Children and teachers should not be murdered in schools. But when we say “should,” we’ve ventured into ethics. Ethics assumes an objective standard from beyond us. Our shared feeling of sickness and revulsion at this week’s events speaks to the design of our maker. Truly, we all enter the apprehension of God’s “emotional life” as we experience evil & injustice.
Finding Mercy: Remember, we are rebels against the one who made us in his image (Romans 5:11-21). If any of us, the gunman or the teacher received justice, then we’d all be doomed. Astonishingly, we all live by God’s mercy alone. Remember that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). God’s mercy alone restrains us from becoming perpetrators of all measures of heinous evils. Why was I not born pharaoh of Egypt, Judas Iscariot, or a school shooter? On the other side of the coin who decided I was not Moses, Mother Theresa, or a school teacher? God did. None, but Jesus alone, is righteous.
The Cross: Because Christians know this gospel, in these times, we need not turn our rage toward the shooter, the other political party, or those who do not share our opinions. Like Jesus in John 11, we direct our rage toward evil and death itself. Because of Jesus, we rage against evil and grieve with hope. How? God assures us that in his climactic mercy, the sinful world, as we know it, will end. Death dies because death died for God’s people in the death of Jesus.
Life Everlasting: On the final day of the world as we know it, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that all living human beings will hear what is described as a “trumpet of God.” Dead people will live again. What encouraging, good news (absent from headlines and news reporting). When an evil man shoots up a school in Texas, those left behind grieve. Those in Christ who are left behind grieve with hope because scripture assures that those who die prior to the second coming of Jesus will return to life again.
For the believer in Christ, our story has a surprising joyous ending: a life that is everlasting. The souls of them who died as believers are with Jesus right now. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 says that at the Second Coming of Jesus, those souls will be reunited to a glorified, spiritual body like the resurrected body of Jesus who is the “firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15).” On that day, we will see those whom we have lost with our own eyes. All the dead will rise! How do we know this for certain? Jesus’ resurrection necessitates it, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1Corinthians 15:20-24 ESV)
Transcendent Meaning: What is next? Might Monday’s tragic shooting have been prevented? Who knows? It was God’s will. Darkness descended on a community in Texas and humanity in general. But no tragic story is satisfyingly completed by merely being the impetus for better laws or policies. If that’s all we have, all is vanity, and we are to be pitied.
The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to hope, not in social reform, but in a resurrection day to come (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Paul was a servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). No tragedy comes to any meaningful end whatsoever without the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Death Will Be No More: Without the gospel of Jesus, history proceeds with unending cycles of death and grief–a real downer. Absent gospel, people try to manage the unpleasantness as best as possible in brief lives and then fade into obscurity at death. Humans cannot accept that truth even while refusing to ascribe the significance of life which we assume as derived from God. Life matters. Rather than human beings being forgotten, according to the gospel, the sin that brought original death and the individual manifestations of death will become the forgotten things. Death destroys dignity. Only the resurrection brings life the dignity the world seeks. Death has no future. Grief occurs in us because death is an invader in God’s creation. God decrees that death exists at present to set up the final chapter of God’s story–glorious resurrection: personally and corporately. God killed death when His Son rose from the dead.
Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 writes to a Christian church that has lost people and is in grief, and says, “I do not want you to be uninformed brothers…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” God is bringing our dead back to life with Him in the Second Coming. The news headlines won’t fill out the meaning of this story for you. Again, it is our job to grieve AND receive God’s revelation. His truth will shape our grieving, Resurrection hope gifted to us by our merciful God shadows and colors our bad news.
Resting in Peace: You may have heard the term “rest in peace” associated with funerals and gravestones. Christian, do you know where that comes from? I do not know when people first started using the expression but I discovered the concept in the writings of the Westminster Assembly in the 1640s as they commented on 1 Thessalonians 4:14. They write, “the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.” Living and dying with hope in the gospel alone promises that people truly rest in peace.
But is this resting in peace only for those who have died? When a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he or she is united to Christ. Therefore, we rest in Him. Hear the words of the Savior as he pleads with the burdened to come to Him, and He will give them rest (Matthew 11:28). Therefore, each believer already has a foot in the age to come. We rest in peace both while we are breathing and also following our last breath. The only difference at our death is that our souls dwell in the presence of the Lord while our bodies lie at rest in mystical union with Him awaiting the second coming. We, therefore, do not live under the weight of fearing God’s wrath. Because the sinless Savior died for us and rose for our justification, we rest in peace by faith. The resurrection age has come bringing contemporary peace for men and women united to Christ.
Resting in peace, we do not grieve as if we were warring with God (Romans 8:1). We exist in this peace unknown to the world around us. The tension for the believer is that he or she rests in peace while the unbeliever labors under irreconcilable burdens. Therefore, we are out of step with popular culture. The church’s restful experience of days of grieving will appear like madness to those who do not share in our resurrection hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Participation in the World of Resurrection: As Paul instructs believers in Thessalonica, our grief cannot be the same as if we were unaware. Because of our union with Christ, the death for a believer means 1) the completion of sanctification for his or her soul and the immediate comforting presence of the Lord, 2) His or her separated body still maintains fellowship with the age to come (it is truly dead in the grave, but RESTING IN PEACE with Jesus). 3) His next move is resurrection and reunification of glorified body and soul made whole for life with Christ.
This gospel changes the world and brings the rest that laws will never bring. Unaware of this peace with God, the burdened and grieving world may, in its search for an unachievable peace, delay deaths, and live the good life, rearrange its legislature in response to the latest tragic headline, The world futilely attempts reformation through law. It will do anything but grieve while resting in gospel hope. In response to demands placed on Him to follow cultural rules about eating and drinking, Jesus said that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean but what proceeds from his heart (Matthew 15:11). Jesus never was quoted as saying, “you know what the world needs is a little more carefully worded legislation.” Laws will not change hearts, God does that work. Christians pray for changed hearts.
Under the shadow of his life-bringing death, Jesus said things like, “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10).” Our world is life. This old world of evil and death and grief has no hope of the life to come. Its best effort is merely to mitigate and manage death. The believers who live in this age share in the sin, misery, and grief of this age, but our union with the resurrected Christ by faith and what He promises is a game-changer. Paul, in stark contrast to the world in Philippians 1, says that to live is Christ, but to die is gain. Jesus was not of this world, and we, united to Him, are not of this world.
We presently share in the resurrection of Christ- “the world (hopeless as it is in appearance) has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).” Going forward, our posture is to be one of sadness for those who hurt without hope. We like Jesus will weep and pray with them for them (John 11) but we will do so with a gospel of hope.
Evil for Good: Christians really experience evil, and we should grieve over it. But our grief is peculiar. In scripture, we saw that Joseph wept as he felt the evils done to him, yet he was given the wisdom to see that the horrible things that happened to him were used by God for good (Genesis 50:20). Similarly, we know that the evil actions of a mad gunman cannot thwart the good and sovereign plan of the Lord to redeem the world in Jesus Christ. Therefore, our posture stands in hope, even in our grief. The Holy Spirit can take grieving, spiritually dead people and raise them to life in Christ. The evil that man intended, God has used for good & that some may be saved (paraphrase of Genesis 50:20).
Christians know this life-giving truth that God promises to work evil for the good of those united to Christ (Romans 8:28). Therefore, the “good” life is not the life that is free from suffering. The good life is any life lived in union with the resurrected savior, Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:12-13). Because Jesus reigns in life, we live and rest at peace with Him. We no longer fear his wrath and displeasure. We do not grieve that our sufferings evidence God’s judgment on us. We know, in fact, that all things work together for our good. We will praise God even when our children are taken from us by evil people. How can that be? God may take away our children, but he gives us Himself. This grace of God brings the believer tears of joy!
A New Creation: Therefore, we will forgive those who steal our children away. We pray for them. We treat our offenders differently because we live in union with the resurrected Savior. We trust that Jesus, the author and perfecter of salvation, is not finished with us, and He is also not finished with those who ridicule or murder us. Perhaps, our mercy toward them born out of our resurrection hope might be the witness that God uses to work good for others. We do not fully comprehend the eternal good that God is working from all the evils which grieve us, but still, we pray and forgive. We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Rather than demonizing those who harm us and others, we confess our sins and ask for God to forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12).
We do not have specific explanations about why this shooter at that place and at this time, but we live as a new creation in union with the resurrected and ruling Savior, so we have the power to grieve with hope throughout our days. Our struggles, losses, and grief all have profound meaning, principally that we are sharing in the life of Jesus. When his people experience suffering, we trust Him by faith that we are walking in the process that our Lord Jesus endured. Our grief and sufferings will serve to build us up (Romans 5:1-5).
Rather than viewing the path of life from a secular point of view as a future humanistic utopia with no God and no death and no suffering, we welcome crosses (Matthew 16:24). While hope in a secular utopian fantasy will only lead to further disillusionment and grief, crosses and death will lead to joy and resurrection. The path of life comes in suffering, power in our weakness, and resurrection from our death. We trust that, by God’s design, out of the tragedies, come souls who are called to hear, believe and live the gospel.
An Invitation: Christian, you already know how despairing the daily headlines can be, especially during a week with one of the worst school shootings we’ve ever seen, but do you know just how incredible the gospel actually is? Your trusted sources on the internet, newspaper, or television will not rightly interpret your experience. You need the Word of God for that. You need the Spirit of God for that. You and I need the Church around us to help. Are you weary of news that lacks the good news of the gospel?
Following the worship service last Sunday, before any of this bad news dominated the news, a woman in our church spoke with me and shared her story of grief. We teared up at the terrible injustice done to someone she knew, and we prayed out loud with gospel hope. It is unlikely her sad story will ever make the national news. The lives of Christians regularly intersect with grief that is largely unnoticed and inconsequential in the eyes of the world.
Our griefs, on the other hand, are not inconsequential to the Lord and His people. Grieving and praying together because we share life together in two worlds (death and resurrection) should be the ordinary manifestation of our hope. This conversation occurred in the midst of a crowded room of people connecting, welcoming, and sharing. I suspect that this particular one-on-one conversation is one of many life-giving ones that day in the life of the church.
Soon thereafter, I walked away from that heavy conversation into another one about cancer found in a young woman. This time, exhausted after preaching and sharing, I prayed silently and departed. The church is called to bear one another’s burdens and show and tell the gospel. I am not sufficient to bear all the grief. Neither are you. None of us will be perfect in this, but all together we serve as the body of Christ. Your church is a necessary part of your life in these two worlds of death (the old) and resurrection (the new creation).
At Trinity Presbyterian Church, you will find a gospel-centered church. Trinity Presbyterian Church will have room for grieving and sad Christians. Trinity Presbyterian Church will, by the grace of God, empathetically grieve with weeping Christians. We grieve with hope. We have the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ and we live to proclaim it and rejoice in it. We welcome all who are wearied of news without the good news. We welcome all those burdened by burdens they can’t shoulder. We welcome all to come to Christ. He will give you rest.
Thank you for a thorough and thoughtful essay. I’m encouraged by your expression of grief and hope and faith and forgiveness. Surely this teaching would mean a lot to anyone who read it. I’ll recommend it!
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