One of the most difficult struggles a believer will ever face is grieving over a loved one who dies without believing in Jesus as Lord. We do not know what happens in the last moments of someone's life, nor can we judge the status of another person's heart. Even so, when we suspect that a loved one will live eternally separated from God, it is devastating.
What comfort is there after the death of an unsaved loved one?
However, Scripture does not leave us without hope in this difficult situation. First, it is clear that mourning and sadness associated with the loss of a loved one, especially when it is likely the person was unsaved, is normal and expected. Even in the case of the death of Moses, the people mourned for 30 days. We need not avoid grieving a lost loved one, but also need to know the comfort and wisdom of God's Word in this situation.
Second, we are reminded that God's plan is perfect and that He alone judges righteously. Many have shared the Gospel with their unsaved loved ones and it has only seemed to fall on deaf ears. But we know that ultimately salvation belongs to God. Genesis 18:25 notes, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" Though we may not like or understand God's plan, we can accept that He knows best.
In addition, we can also take comfort in the fact that the pain we face in this life, including the pain of facing the death of an unsaved loved one, is temporary. Revelation 21:4 promises, "He 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." The tears you cry today will not last forever.
Further, God can use even the death of an unsaved loved one to cause good in other ways. For example, sometimes the loss of a person in this situation will lead to salvation of others. In other cases, a person who experiences the loss of an unsaved loved one becomes more motivated to share the gospel, resulting in many more changed lives. When we go to God with our grief and our questions, we often come to know Him more deeply and learn to trust Him more.
Finally, the loss of a loved one causes us to re-evaluate our own lives. This is why Ecclesiastes 7:2 teaches, "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart." Reflecting on the lost lives of others, whether believer or unbeliever, causes us to look at how we live. We find ourselves seeking to make a greater difference, leave a legacy, and live to make a deeper eternal impact each day. We also find ourselves drawing closer to God as we continue to seek after Him in the midst of grief.
Though these benefits do not take away from the sadness associated with an unbelieving loved one who has died, it is important to understand that such grief is temporary and can even serve as part of God's plan to change your life and the lives of many others. Rather than living with discouragement, we can find greater purpose to impact the lives of those around us with the love of Christ, seeking to share His love with all we can each day of our lives.
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