Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I were walking into the local hospital to visit her father in ICU. As soon as we exited the car in the parking lot, we could hear a lady crying near the ER. Her crying was not simply sobbing. It was that all too familiar crying, weeping, uncontrollable, pain ridden, shock.
As we walked closer to the hospital entrance, I could see her. There was no mistake what was going on as I watched her falling to her knees in weakness, her friend holding her helpless, mourning body. Her wailing and crying “no, no, no”, as her family rushed to her silenced the conversation that my wife and I were having before we exited our car.
I didn’t know exactly what had happened and neither could my wife, but we knew enough. My wife broke our silence as we rounded the corner away from the ER and on to the front doors of the hospital. “It’s sad, isn’t it.” That’s all either of us could say, but my wife had indicated that she knew what I had quickly figured out. That lady had obviously lost someone that day. The shock and grief was dealing the blow of death to her. My wife was so right. It’s sad…
The strange thing is what I didn’t tell my wife. In fact, I couldn’t say anything. But I wanted to run to that lady. I wanted to grab her and look at her and tell her about hope. It sounds crazy, I know. I didn’t even know her, but I almost did it anyway, but I remained silent as we walked to the door. I suppose, the only thing that stopped me was the fact that so many of the lady’s family and friends were rushing to her.
I hate death. Death is the enemy. I hate what it does to the living. It comes and steals away peoples joy and peace. It ruins people’s hopes and dreams. It haunts people when they try to sleep without their lost loved ones. Death is not only a killer, it’s a thief!
What do you say to the grieving? “It’s gonna be okay?” I don’t think so.
When a person is in the shape that the lady at the ER was in, “okay” ain’t gonna get it.
The fact is, it may not be okay.
First of all, the person they just lost may not have been a believer. It’s not okay for them.
Next, the deceased may be the financial support, emotional support, or plain ole right arm of the griever. In that case, “it’s gonna be okay” might be a lie.
Finding the right thing to say to someone who just lost a loved one is almost impossible. Most of the pastoral types tell us to just keep quiet. “Just be there” or “love them” they say.
Well, that may be true. At that initial exposure to death, people are not always thinking clearly. Many times your attempts at consolation make them angry or hurt them. That’s especially true when people use the “God works all things together for good” verse.
Besides that being a misuse of that particular passage…
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
it is too much of a pad answer, and people recognize it as that very thing. Pad answers don’t convey your carful attention to their situation and by that, show your lack of caring for the person in it.
Quiet is not good enough for me though. Pastors may be right. It may be better to be quiet sometimes, but I don’t believe it is all of the time, especially when people are without hope.
You see, Christians carry in our very belief the greatest apologetic of all, the apologetic of hope.
When people are hopeless, we have the cure. I think that’s exactly what we’re called to do. We are called to share the hope.
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)
It’s easy as apologists to see this verse as a mere justification to hash it out with atheists and skeptics, and it is at least that. But it is much more than that. Notice that Peter tells us to be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks. What do they ask? They ask for a reason for the hope that is in you. What is that hope?
The book of 1 Peter is a book about how to deal with suffering. Peter is writing to a suffering church, dealing with persecution and even death. As he writes to them, he explains that in that suffering they will be brought closer to Christ, made more like him, and that Christ will be glorified.
How will the public see them as they suffer yet glorify God? Inevitably, Peter predicts that people will ask about the hope that they possess. “Be ready when they ask”, he says, “to give a defense.” He is predicting that they will be asked about their hope.
What is the hope? The hope is the resurrection. We will live on! Christ died and rose again! Peter relates baptism to the resurrection, not as the same things, having the same qualities but that baptism is an anti-type of the resurrection, showing that we will come out of death when we are resurrected like Christ.
Paul put it this way…
“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15–17, ESV)
There it is, or I should say he. Jesus is our hope. He is the hope in us in 1 Peter 3:15. He is the man who we reign with in life. He is the hope we have over death, because he is the one man who conquered death.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55, ESV)
If there is an apologetic, a defense we can give of the reasons for our hope, it’s Jesus. Jesus the death conqueror, the resurrected one, the hope that is in us. He is not only our greatest hope, he is our only hope. He is their only hope.
We have the greatest apologetic already inside of us. He is Christ.
And this is a genuine and an undoubted proof of our faith, when, being visited with adversity, we, notwithstanding, persevere in cherishing and exercising hope in God.-Calvin
So, if you want an apologetic that can actually make a difference, get to know Jesus. If you want to know what to say to a person who is fighting against death, know what Jesus said. If you want to love a person who is hurting, know how Jesus loved hurting people.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35, ESV)
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37, ESV)
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”” (John 6:40, ESV)
Remember this though. Jesus is not data. He is not the Cosmological Argument. He is not information. He can’t be given as an anthropic principle (although in a sense he is the very essence of that). He is not an argument or a logical conclusion. He is no syllogism. He is a person. He is the Christ.
Do not convince people of Jesus. Take people to him. Do not reason of Jesus. Help people reason with Jesus.
He is real and really lives in you. Know him, love him, and take them to him.
Jesus is the hope that is in us, and Jesus, our hope is our greatest apologetic.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3, ESV)
 Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.