It is clearly not easy to experience intense pain, either physically or mentally, or be the victim of a natural disaster or of someone’s evil actions. But it may even be worse to watch our loved ones experience painful and tragic circumstances. And yet, human life includes all sorts of suffering. Because suffering and death are inevitable, all of us have experienced, or will experience, profound grief.
In the first two parts of this series (see part 1 and part 2), I offered philosophical and theological reflections on the big topics of death and grieving. In this final article of the series, I will continue my reflections upon Elisabeth Kübler–Ross’s well-known model of grief, specifically addressing the final three stages.
To all people who are grieving, let me once again strongly recommend seeking out professional medical, psychological, and spiritual assistance during this challenging time—it is of critical importance. My reflections are intended from a merely philosophical and theological point of view.
The Five Stages of Grief
Here are Kübler–Ross’s five stages listed again—and remember that this five-stage model applies to people who are facing a terminal illness as well as to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one:
Brief Reflections on the Stages (continued)
When faced with a desperate situation, virtually all of us wonder if there is a deal to be made that can deliver us from our perilous plight. After all, so much of life is about give and take and pulling off the art of the deal. So when death comes knocking, we tend to make promises to God in order to try to get him to slow down or reverse the inevitable, at least for a while.
While some no doubt view this as a vain act of desperation, most Christians believe that a divine intervention in the form of a miracle is never out of the question for the Creator-Redeemer God of the Bible. While some forms of bargaining may be unrealistic, in matters of health, Christians are prudent to seek all realistic options, and those may be of both a natural (medical) and supernatural (miraculous) nature. God heals through both providence (medicine) and intervention (miracle). But as believers who trust in God’s sovereign will, we recognize that death is the ultimate healing, as the apostle Paul notes: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Coping with our own life-threatening illness or that of someone we love carries a heavy mental and emotional toll. Coming to grips with the magnitude of death and loss can easily lead to depression. This later stage that often involves sadness and sometimes even feelings of despair is nevertheless also a movement toward living in reality. Accepting death with all of its painful and scary aspects nevertheless allows us to appreciate the great gift of life. For those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones, this stage can mark the beginning of healing and a return to their regular lives.
Those who have battled depression know the wave of debilitating sadness it can bring. Seeking professional help during these difficult times is always a good idea.
When we truly accept our mortality and that of our loved ones, we can truly come to the awareness of our extreme existential neediness. In facing grief over our own impending death or the death of our loved ones, we can see clearly our need for God. And from a Christian worldview perspective, Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead was intended to conquer death, which stalks all of us mortals.
Here are the words of the apostle Paul as he describes the resurrection that awaits all who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51–57)
In closing, I hope these three articles on the challenging topics of death and grief will help readers who are experiencing tough times. I also hope that my reflections will motivate Christians to readily volunteer to help people who are suffering through grief.
Reflections: Your Turn
How are these stages specifically impacted in light of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead?
- For my own thoughts about what I think it means to die well, see my book Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking about the End Times, appendix B and pages 63–66.
- For a defense of God’s goodness in light of evil and suffering, see my book 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas, chapters 13 and 14.
- For a philosophical discussion of death in light of Jesus’s resurrection, see my book 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas, chapters 1 and 2.
- On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families by Elisabeth Kübler–Ross (book)