Grieving with the Trinity
by Tony Caffey

October 16, 2020

Gospel Integrity

Grieving with the Trinity

By Tony Caffey

October 16, 2020

Recently I did a funeral for some dear friends who lost a son. Is there anything more painful in this life than losing a child? Is there a greater experience of grieving than this? As a pastor, there is nothing more difficult than conducting funerals for families who are experiencing this kind of grief. But it is also a time for pastors to step up and fulfill their calling in a powerful way. Who else is a family going to call in a situation like that?

My goal for funerals is pretty simple. It’s twofold. First of all,I want to help families grieve (and grieve with them) in a formal service of remembrance. And second, I want to point people to hope in Jesus Christ. But how do you help families to grieve the loss of a child? How do you sympathize with something so painful, devastating, and visceral, unless you’ve been through that yourself?

We Never Grieve Alone

The reality is that grief-stricken families never grieve alone. There are ways in which our grief is shared and experienced by all three persons of the Trinity. And pointing families towards the Trinity in these difficult moments can both help them in their grief, and direct them towards the gospel. Let me explain by showing how all three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) share in our grief.

The Grief of the Son

There’s a famous moment in Scripture when Jesus came face to face with death, and his response is surprising. Jesus came to conquer death. Jesus came to experience death and defeat death. But when Jesus dealt with the death of his dear friend, Lazarus, something astonishing happened. And it’s probably not what you think.

I’m sure you’re familiar with that famous verse of Scripture, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). That is everyone’s favorite verse to memorize in Sunday School. Yes, Jesus wept. But just before that, John says, “When Jesus saw [Mary, Lazarus’s sister] weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). Just a few verses later in John 11:35, John tells us that Jesus wept. So Jesus’s weeping was preceded by this great sense of agitation. He was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” In fact this statement that Jesus was “deeply moved” is probably better translated “indignant” or “agitated.”[1] Jesus was angry about Lazarus’s death before he wept. Why was he angry? Isn’t Jesus God? Doesn’t he know that death is an inevitable part of life?

I think Jesus was agitated and greatly troubled because he knew that death is an intruder.[2] It wasn’t supposed to be like this. And death made him angry, and it made him cry. But it also made him resolved to go to the cross and die a death of restoration, so that death would not have the last word in our world. Yes, Jesus wept. And we should too. Yes, Jesus was agitated and greatly troubled by the death of his friend. And our grief is often characterized that way too. But Jesus also defeated death. He died on the cross and paid for sin, so that we might have eternal life after this world and not eternal death. We need to direct people towards this reality when they grieve deeply over the loss of a loved one.

The Grief of the Father

Unfortunately, I cannot show you a place in Scripture where it reads, “And God the Father wept.” That’s not in the Bible, and that’s not possible since God is spirit and doesn’t have the physical properties (like the Son) to produce tears. But I think it’s a mistake to say or conclude that our Heavenly Father never grieves or that his displays of emotion are anthropomorphic.[3] God, who designed our emotions, is often presented in the Bible with strong emotion. He rejoices. He gets angry. He is saddened. He grieves. And there is a tinge of grief found in those famous words “only begotten.”[4] John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only [begotten] son…”

You know there are places in the Bible where we, as believers, are referred to as the sons of God. We are called the children of God. But just to be clear, there is only one “only begotten” Son of the Father. And that is Jesus. And here’s where the grief comes in. God the Father knows the pain of losing a child. God the Father experienced that pain. God the Father actually sent his only begotten son to this world to suffer and die for our sins. There’s no pain in this world like losing a child. There’s no grief in this world that can compare to that. And God the Father knows that pain. And he had a purpose for it in his perfect planto save us from our sins. We don’t always know or understand God’s plan. We don’t always know why he allows us to go through deep pain and grief in this world. But we can’t say that God doesn’t understand our pain, or that he’s never gone through it. He has. He lost a son. 

God the Spirit Grieves

There’s one more member of the Trinity, and he shares in our grief too. Romans teaches that when we put our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit actually comes and makes his home inside of us. And remarkably the presence of the Spirit inside us authorizes us to call God, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:16). What a marvel that is!  

Well, Romans also speaks about the Holy Spirit’s groaning inside of us. Paul says that all creation is groaning for this world to be renewed. And he says about Christians in Romans 8:23 that “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” That groaning in our Spirit reminds us that this world is not our home and that something better awaits us. That groaning is a kind of grieving inside of us, but it’s grief with hope. We don’t grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). We grieve with hope.

Grief Intertwined with Hope

Every time we encounter death in this world, the Spirit groans inside of us. Every time we see war, plague, disease, injustice, or brokenness in this world, there is a groaning inside of us. Every time we experience aging, or go to the dentist to get a root canal, or go to that specialist to schedule a surgery…every time we do those things, there is a groaning inside of us that longs and hopes for eternity. Every time we go to a funeral we have an opportunity to grieve our present world and reestablish our hope for eternity. And eternity is coming. It’s coming soon.

Funerals give pastors a chance to point people towards eternity and the hope that we have for glorious new life and even new incorruptible bodies. Our duty is to help people grieve rightlygrieve even with the Trinity. And we don’t grieve hopelessly. Our hope for eternity is inescapably bound up with our grief. Again, if pastors don’t step up to help families process these things properly, who’s going to do it?

[1] See BDAG, ταράσσω #2, 990. See also Andreas Kostenberger, John, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 339: “It is often used of animals to describe their ‘snorting.’”

[2] I’m indebted to Tim Keller for this observation and the terminology “death is an intruder.” See his sermon “Death and the Christian Hope,” 1 Thessalonians 5:13-5:11, preached April 4, 2004, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

[3] For the record, I do not hold to the view that all of God the Father’s demonstration of emotion in the Bible are anthropopathisms. Neither do I hold to the view that God’s immutability is inescapably bound up with an assumed impassibility. My view is consistent with Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 165-6.

[4] One word in Greek – μονογενής. This word indicates uniqueness or “the only one of its kind within a specific relationship” (BDAG, μονογενής, 658).


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