the dungeon of death

Grief knows no boundaries. It does not take into account a person’s station in life, the time of year,  his age, level of maturity, or its own effect. It comes in different ways: sometimes subtly, sometimes shockingly. It simply follows its masters—death, long life, cancer, abuse, miscarriage, loneliness—and works when and where it wills. It is determined to affect all people. It refuses to leave even one untouched.

We grieve because we do not understand why. Why must people die? Why does God allow it? Why does it hurt so badly? Why won’t it go away? Why did it happen? The questions are the right ones, and the sufferers deserve to ask them.

hermann 052But the answers to the why questions are what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world. They have the one thing needful to offer that the world does not. They have a hope the world cannot comprehend. Unlike the vague, nebulous platitudes of the world, Christians—and specifically Lutherans—have the answers. They are able to speak specifically and uniquely to pain, discomfort, death, and fear because . . .

All of the answers are found in Christ. They are numerous and full of hope: “Whoever has the Son has life.” “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” “It is by grace you have been saved.” In these words, our Lord repeats His promises of faithfulness. He bestows the grace required to hold Him to His promises. He remains merciful, even in the darkest and most painful hours of the night.

hermann 058This does not mean that grief subsides overnight or that suffering will be eased instantaneously. Grief is both exactly the same and markedly different. It comes in waves and goes in phases. It is contingent upon time. It reacts differently to each situation. It cannot be rushed.

But it is both for these similarities and differences that God’s Son, the Comforter, inserted Himself into our world. He knew the suffering. He witnessed the affliction. He experienced it Himself. He looked upon the pain, took on the sin, felt its weight, and responded in mercy.

hermann 066As Lutherans, we have the profound duty and privilege to share these answers with those who suffer. We come alongside the grieving with with God’s Word of relief and reprieve from hurt and sorrow. With those who mourn or are angry or feel hurt, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

And as we do, we listen, counsel, understand, and encourage. We are the strings around the pointer fingers of the bereaved—the reminders—the ones who are continuously repeating that Christ is our comfort, our mercy, our rest in the exhaustion of grief.

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Grief is no respecter of persons, but neither is Christ. He binds up the broken-hearted, sets the prisoners free, and gives liberty to those in bondage (Luke 4:18). He speaks His Word, and things happen. Souls are comforted. Hearts are renewed. Burdens are lifted. Sins are forgiven.

For in the end, it is only because of Him that the Church stands ready to help the struggling with a word of comfort and consolation. It is because of Christ that the Church can give answer the why questions and speak to those in need as they have been spoken to by Him.

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That is not to say that people will not still hurt. They will never completely forget. They will still suffer. Days leading up to birthdays will still be long, and Christmases will be painful.

But they have the Word of the Lord. They know that the Holy Spirit intercedes on their behalf. Like the widow of Nain, they know they will receive their loved ones back to them on the Final Day. But until then, they must wait, and the Church must wait alongside of them. Together, they hope. Side by side, they persevere. As one, they struggle. And yet, in concert, they look with expectant hope to the day when the Lord, who has begun His good work in them, will bring them to complete freedom from grief in Him who does all things well.

Hold on to Christ with firm trust of the heart. Commend yourself to Him in the prayer of faith. He will comfort you at the right time. He will lift up your stricken heart with the Word of the Gospel. He will bind up your fatally wounded heart. He will proclaim freedom to your heart when you are led captive by death. He will proclaim an opening of prison when you are thrown into the dungeon of death.[1]

[1] John Gerhard, Manual of Comfort (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press), 63.

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3 thoughts on “the dungeon of death

  1. Death, what is the worst you can do to me? You have frightening teeth, you bare them and you terrify me, and I do not die gladly. But I don’t want to consider only what you can do, and how, as you, like the executioner, draw the sword; but I want to ponder and perceive how our Lord God will intervene, even though you strangle me. He does not fear you, nor is he awed by your raging and ravaging, but says, “Death, I shall be the death of you; grave, I shall be your destruction. If you can kill my Christians, I can in turn throttle you and recall them to life.”
    (Martin Luther, House Postil, 2nd Sermon for 16 Trinity, ¶10)

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