Mourning the death of a loved one causes most of us to search for a way to keep the relationship viable. They have moved on and into eternity, but we remain here. And we desperately miss them! The unwillingness to release them is perfectly normal in the grieving process, as long as we don’t take it to extremes.
In our efforts to maintain a sense of connection with our loved ones, however, we often imagine them watching over us, and sometimes causing heavenly intervention on our behalf. Such thoughts offer consolation by providing a sense that they still love us enough to be involved in the intricate details of our lives…perhaps even more involved than they had been during their earthy lives. But that line of thinking must be rejected as unbiblical!
How can I make such an uncharitible statement? Can’t I show compassion to those who grieve? Yes. But I want to show the sort of compassion that reflects the truth of Scripture as opposed to the false comforts of human ideas. The comfort God offers through His Word far exceeds human fantasies by reminding us to look past our loved ones to Christ Himself, realizing that they have the joy of being in His immediate presence.
Certainly, Christians can rightly expect to be reunited with their believing loved one in heaven. The Bible encourages us to cling to that very expectation during times of grief. The apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonian Christians, showed that faith in the resurrection provides tremendous assurance to those of us who stay behind:
13 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. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. ~~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)
Through Paul, the Holy Spirit assures us that death separates Christians only temporarily, and that when Jesus returns all of us will rise to meet Him in our resurrected bodies. At that glorious moment, we will be reunited with each other, and we will finally be face-to-Face with Him.
In the meantime, the spirits of our Christian loved ones dwell in heaven with the Lord and His angels, where they focus on worshiping Him. How much more marvelous for them to behold His glory and majesty than to watch us struggle with our bodies of sin! Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, eagerly looked forward to death with the knowledge that he would then come into Christ’s presence. He longed for that day! Yet he knew that, once he went to be with the Lord, he could no longer do anything for those he left on earth.
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. ~~Philippians 1:18b-26 (ESV)
While he was on earth, Paul could minister to the Philippians if only by praying on their behalf and perhaps writing additional letters. He anticipated a release from prison that would permit him to visit them again, and consequently he knew that his death would curtail his ministry to them. Once in heaven, Paul’s gaze would rest solely on Christ, not on his beloved Philippians.
Our loved ones in heaven will rejoice when we join them, but Scripture indicates that their eyes currently fix themselves on Jesus, rather than on us. They know, better than we do, that He can care for us without their intervention. More importantly, they understand that, like them, we need to keep our attention completely on Him. And they love us so much that they hope we’ll do so.