Recently I walked with a dear friend in his grief. His dad died, and he experienced the acute pain of loss, the kind that confuses the senses and spins the room. My friend’s pastor, Pastor Rick, was present, listened patiently, and shared the right truth at the right time. It was a master class for me on shepherding well through grief.
I stood with my friend and a small huddle of his family around the grave, looking down at a casket in the ground. My friend’s widowed mother wept. “There’s no right way to grieve,” Pastor Rick told her. We all listened in. “You will feel like you’re descending one step at a time, deeper and deeper into sadness. You’ll keep going down another step, then another step, still more,” he said. “At the bottom, Jesus is already there to meet you.”
Our struggles with grief are all different, but what we need to know is the same. We need God to tailor his truth to our lives in the way only he can. In my own grief, I’ve found comfort in two truths from 1 Peter 1:3–9.
Hope for Elect Exiles
Peter writes to the “elect exiles” who find themselves out of place in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia . . . and Maryland. The apostle reminds us that we’re chosen, elected by God and precious to him, and yet we’re alone, displaced, disoriented, and sometimes sad. We join the exiled Christians to whom Peter wrote when we’re “grieved by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6). In our suffering, we live in both realities. We’re stuck on this broken earth in our sadness while our ultimate citizenship is in heaven.
Peter wants to comfort these saints. He wants the reality of their election to overcome what they feel in their exile. So, to these believers in grief, Peter offers two truths.
1. We are his.
God is sovereign over our grief. He is the One who chose us in grace before the earth’s foundation. He’s the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Because of his mercy, he’s our Father too. That’s no small mercy! Peter makes it clear that God’s “great mercy” is what causes us to be born again and turns our grief into hope.
The mighty maker both of galaxies and of my oversized earlobes has now given me new life through Jesus. We have hope as sure as Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and return. We were outsiders, alone, and not his people. But now we’re his sons and daughters, his heirs. We’ve been given what we didn’t earn, and we’re heading toward a final inheritance.
I am his even on days when I’m in a believing-the-lie-that-I’m-alone trial. The Son of God gave his life as a ransom for me (Mark 10:45). Because I have him, and he has me, I have eternal life (John 17:3, 1 John 5:11–13). I am a child of God (John 1:12). When I believed the gospel, I was sealed with the Holy Spirit who guarantees my inheritance (Eph. 1:13–14). Nothing can separate me from his love (Rom. 8:38–39).
These great mercies are such a comfort in our grief. We don’t need to try to hold it together or to be more joyful. We can just keep coming back to Jesus. We can crawl and cling to him, covered in tears. He is there at the bottom. He suffered for you and now grieves with you (John 11:35), because even in your grief, you belong to him.
2. Today is not always.
Peter says we are grieved “for a little while” (v. 6), but we rejoice in our grief. Here the apostle contrasts what’s true with what’s felt. The Son is ours. Salvation is ours. Today, however, it may feel untrue. Nevertheless, we struggle forward toward the dawn of a new day, and genuine faith keeps us clinging to our Savior.
We don’t need to try to hold it together or be more joyful. We can just keep coming back to Jesus. We can crawl and cling to him, covered in tears. He is there at the bottom.
As we cling to Christ, our faith is fired and refined. Pain purifies, and the God who gives, guards, and guarantees faith strengthens us as we come back to Jesus again and again—even when we may not feel like we have the strength. Because of its object, our faith is more precious than gold, and it culminates in praise.
When our season of suffering ends in eternity, we’ll look back with our Savior and thank him. We’ll give glory and honor to Jesus for holding us through times that felt like forever, but thankfully, were not always. While in this season when we do not yet see him, we can love and rejoice in him preemptively, remembering that Peter saw him, and one day we will too.
Christ’s presence will prove more permanent than our grief. Your winter will end when he is revealed and all things are made new. Then, God’s mercy will mend our broken souls as he mends our broken world. Final salvation will come, budding like spring flowers from bare branches.
Jesus Holds Us
We were leaving the graveside service when my friend’s widowed mom sighed, “I want to believe I’ll see him again.” Wrestling with her Savior, she longed for the day when death doesn’t steal husbands. Jesus held her.
He’ll hold you too. He knows your pain. He knows when your faith is weak. He knows you cannot make it alone when you lose your husband, care for your disabled daughter, or suffer in various ways. Today is not always. One day, you will see him. On that day, faith will become sight and we’ll celebrate together at his never-ending feast: a wedding, not a funeral. And it will swallow us with joy. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10–11).