In this episode of TGC Q&A, John Piper and Trip Lee discuss the question, “How do I find peace when unsaved loved ones die?” They address:
- Understand the faith of the listener (:00)
- The radical prioritization of following Jesus (1:22)
- Our current capacity for dealing with death (1:56)
- “Sorrowful, but always rejoicing” (4:08)
- Become acquainted with the goodness of God (6:10)
- Anguish over the lost (7:35)
- Roll your burdens onto God (8:50)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of death.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
John Piper: How I would go about helping somebody in that condition depends so much on where they are, biblically, theologically, immaturity. I mean, I’m going to lay on some people some texts that would make other people say that’s not helpful at all.
Trip Lee: Absolutely. That was my first though, too. I’ve had conversations with people where I thought, there’s certain things that wouldn’t draw them to Jesus, wouldn’t help them to see things more clearly, would only pile on the grief.
John Piper: Yeah. So what I did as I’ve faced this and had to choose, now, what kinds of things have I got in my repertoire of biblical helpfulness? And I think there are a whole slew of texts. Let me just run through some and you jump in or add to or whatever.
So Jesus has some radical texts. Like if you love mother father more than me, you’re not worthy of me. So somewhere along the line and hopefully way before they lose someone, I’m going to try to help people so love God that their first love is not undermined by the loss of their second love, which is huge. My kid, my wife, whatever, or remember that text where Jesus, somebody said, let me go bury my father. And he says, “Just follow me and let the dead bury their dead.” What in the world is that?
Well, the least it is, is a pretty radical prioritization of following Jesus. So those are a couple of texts from Jesus. Then there’s John in Revelation where it says, we’re going to rejoice at the destruction of Babylon. She’s down. All those murders she committed. It’s over and payback time, and we’re going to rejoice, chapter 19 verse 18 or something like that. And so is that loving? I mean, you miss that? Oh yeah [inaudible] that’s not my kid, that’s not my husband. Yeah, but you’re supposed to love everybody. So we get the same essential problem of how we are someday going to exalt with God in his justice. And those humans we were called upon to lay down our lives for in this world, love your enemy and bless those who curse you. So the way I think John would answer, how are we going to get there, is his other text that I thought of, first John 32. We’re not like him yet, but when we see him, we’ll be like him.
I don’t think you or I have emotional capacities right now to deal with all the death in the way we will deal with it in [inaudible].
Trip Lee: That’s good.
John Piper: I’ve got limitations on me now, and those limitations are guided by scripture, like weep with those who weep. And so I’m not going to be held hostage in heaven by hell. And so there’s going to be an emotional change wrought in me to see the way God sees, like now we see through a glass darkly, then we’ll see face-to-face and we’ll be like him. So if he is executing justice on unbelievers, including our family members, which Jesus says they’re going to be split up, then we will, at that point, maybe not yet, have the emotional wherewithal, okay, I’m going to rejoice in your justice here, even though it seems to be very difficult.
And just one other passage, 2 Corinthians 6-10 is huge for me. “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing,” which means it’s okay for the rest of your life to feel the loss and grieve over the person who died and went to hell. I mean, as far as you know. We don’t always know, and that probably needs to be said. We don’t ever know really, ultimately I would say, because we don’t know the 11th hour transactions that go on in a person’s heart. But the fact that there’s a sorrowful yet always rejoicing means you don’t ever have to get beyond sorrow in this life. And then something in the twinkling of an eye is going to, I think, fix us so that we can change at the end.
Well, I did a handful funerals for unbelievers. Not many, I wasn’t a burying person, but one I remember totally. And it was the brother of one of the prominent ladies in our church, and she just said flat out, “He’s never been to church. He hated God and he’s dead. And I know he’s in hell, and I want you to preach.” We didn’t do it in the church. We had at the nursing home about 30 people there, it was snowing like crazy outside. And I stood up in front of them and I said, “Elsie has made it really… I mean, Odette was her name, Fran Deville. Odette said, “We all know Herman is not a believer.” I preached the gospel. And then we got around the coffin because it can go the snowy graveside. And I said, “Here’s my last word: Genesis 18-25, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right.”
And you don’t have to see how it works. Right now, just humble yourself under my hand of God. Have you had an experience where you put somebody in the-
Trip Lee: Yes. And you know, I’ve had a lot of the same instincts as you in terms of thinking about what’s most helpful. And similarly, I feel like so much of it has to… I would want to encourage somebody to acquaint themselves with the goodness of God. Because when we can understand how good and how just God is, it helps us to be at peace with his wisdom. You know? So sometimes the guilt we will feel if a loved one passed away and they don’t know Jesus is our guilt about, maybe I should have shared the gospel with them, or maybe I should have shared more times. Or there was at one time when I saw the ABC and the guilt that sticks with us.
Anybody, when someone passes away, there’s some guilt, but for a believer who knows that someone may not know Jesus, it’s just… And so it can turn into a thing where you dwell on how it’s your fault. And in times like that, then I want to go to a text cycle, Romans 9, where Paul clearly says, it depends, not only human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. That at the end of the day, the deciding act, who has the final say, is not you and how many times you did. Now maybe you could have been more faithful, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t depend on human will or exertion. It depends on God who has mercy.
John Piper: You know, that text, Romans 9:16 or wherever it is, is sandwiched in 9-2 where he has unceasing anguish because he’s lost Judas, and 10:1 where he’s praying for him. So it’s right to feel anguish. It’s right to pray, and it’s right to know God calls the shots. Because that little constellation in Romans is so helpful for me.
Trip Lee: Absolutely. Yeah. And so I wouldn’t want to encourage them to… Because even the kind of dwelling on it in a way that’s not helpful for your soul. You also don’t want to encourage someone to just sit in that. I would want to encourage you to acquaint yourself with God’s goodness and his mercy and his justice. Because it was almost like being a kid and your dad… I remember just being a kid and maybe my dad would want us to do something I didn’t really want us to do. But the more I understood and trusted my dad, [inaudible] saying, I don’t really know how that’s best, but I trust that you know best, and the greater our trust is for God being merciful and good, the greater we can say, I don’t see it now, maybe I’ll see it later, but I trust you in the midst of this.
John Piper: Maybe we close with one verse that says that, at least in my mind is part of this, from Psalm 55:22, cast here, “Roll your burdens onto the Lord”. So if a person is still feeling, they feel guilt, they’re feeling sorrow, all the emotional upheaval that doesn’t seem to go away, and partly maybe because of guilt, you say, “Okay, that’s real. There it is. Now here’s one verse says what to do with it. Roll it like a big boulder onto the broad shoulders of God and walk out of the room without it as much as you can.”
Trip Lee: And how gracious is God that those are commands. He commands us like, “Hand that to me, that’s mine.”
John Piper: That’s right.
Trip Lee: “Those aren’t your burdens. Those are mine. Hand them to me. I’ll carry those.” Just another thing that points to the goodness of God.