Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her ninety-fifth birthday on April 21, 2021. Although her official birthday is in June, milestone birthdays of the reigning British monarch are usually marked with suitable pomp and ceremony, but not this one. Four days ago, in a small family service watched by millions on television, the queen buried her husband of 73 years. The magnitude of her loss was underlined by the poignant pictures of her sitting alone because of COVID-19 regulations.
Death is no respecter of rank, privilege, or person. Sooner or later we all die. His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died two months before his one-hundredth birthday. It is all too easy to say, “At his age, it was inevitable.” Whether a person has lived a long, fulfilling life or died prematurely, they leave a gap that no one else can fill. The queen, like many others, now faces a life whose landscape is forever changed.
Joy Comes in the Morning
Following a bereavement, the future seems daunting and bleak. Yet somehow life continues. The psalmist wrote: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5, ESV).1 Grief is not something that can be turned off at the flick of a switch, nor does it disappear overnight, yet this verse holds a promise for all who mourn. They will experience joy again. A joy that is rooted in the reality of a loving Savior who has experienced the ultimate separation and loss so that we can experience joy, both now and in the future.
At the start of His ministry, Jesus, echoing the prophet Isaiah, affirmed: “He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18, NKJV).2 This is a promise He reiterated in the Beatitudes: “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4, NLT)3—a comfort that is the foundation of living a life of joy.
Sooner or later we all experience the pain of loss and grief, yet it does not have to destroy us. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, expanded on the comfort available to people confronted by the death of a loved one. He says, “Do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13, NIV).4 We have a hope in the resurrection that is real and relevant. In Revelation, John takes us beyond the resurrection to a “Land of No More.” “[God] ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4, NIV). Ultimately, death will be annihilated and families reunited.
An Ever-present God
One of the greatest challenges, particularly following the loss of a spouse, is loneliness. Like many other families in similar circumstances, the queen’s family is making plans to mitigate her loneliness and ensure that she does not have to carry out her duties alone.
The God who created us for relationship knows and understands our loneliness. He promises that He will never, never leave us (cf. Heb. 13:5). Many centuries earlier, the psalmist used the picture of a shepherd to provide the same assurance: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4, NKJV). The reassurance of the presence of God in the shadowlands of grief and loss enables us to walk on during the darkest of days.
A Faithful God
Corrie ten Boom is said to have stated, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”5 This is particularly true when confronted by death. From that instant, nothing will ever be the same. The prophet Jeremiah said: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22, 23, NIV). The Lord is faithful, regardless of circumstances. What He promises, He delivers. No matter how deep our pain, He promises that His compassion will never fail, and each day He gives the necessary strength for that day, hour, minute, or second, when we feel that we just cannot go on.
The Goodness of God
Although it may sound counterintuitive when we meet death, we also meet the goodness of God. We meet a God who is not remote. Instead, He is present in our grief, a God who is faithful and offers hope because He has dealt with the long-term consequences of death. As we continue to move forward with our loss through the changed landscape of our lives, we can know a deep abiding peace and joy, which does not come from ourselves but is a gift from God.
When confronted by significant loss and life changes, we are faced with a choice: Will we trust God or not? Sixteen years ago our house burned down. We were left with the clothes we were wearing and nothing else. That night my husband said: “We can sit in a corner and cry, but when we come out of our corner nothing will have changed. Alternately, we can trust God.” We trusted God.
Four and a half years ago, when my husband was killed in an accident, I remembered those words. Losing a spouse is totally different from losing possessions; however, the basic question was the same: Was I willing to trust God and His goodness even when every fiber of my being was screaming the opposite?
God does not fail. He binds up the brokenhearted. His goodness fills my heart, and my life is full of gratitude and joy. He gives not only hope for the future but hope and joy for each day. His compassions never fail.