But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
There is nothing like abortion. Forty-four years after abortion on demand was granted legitimacy by the Supreme Court, it remains highly divisive, and no middle ground has been discovered. There are several reasons for this, but let me suggest two related ones: abortion is personal, and it involves death. Generally speaking, the instance of abortion intimately involves a woman, pregnant with a child she wishes she weren’t carrying, who undergoes a “procedure” (a tidy and convenient term) that can never be undone. It is no surprise that many women grieve terribly over their abortions. Despite pro-choice evasions, mothers love their children and grieve when they are no more. This puts those who have been involved in abortion in an untenable position: either face up to having participated in the death of a child or somehow deny the death itself.
In the passage quoted above, Paul gets to the heart of this matter. Writing of those who grieve, he makes a crucial distinction between hopeless grief and hopeful grief. The difference? Those who grieve without hope see death as final. Those who grieve with hope do not. Both kinds of grief are real, but the character of each is different. One sees nothing but darkness, while the other, in the midst of pain, anticipates light.
Here the Church has a voice that can be found nowhere else. The whole of Christian faith rests upon the conviction that God is sovereign even over death, and therefore death need not be permanent. In fact, the simple claim of the New Testament is that because Jesus died and was raised from the dead, those who die in Christ will also be raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus transforms wishful thinking into solid hope. It is because death is not final that the Scriptures speak of death as sleep. Believing this takes the sting out of death. It does not mean that believers escape the pain that comes with death. But their pain is different. Pain is always painful, but it is not always dark.
While the Scriptures do not deal explicitly with what happens to infants when they die, there are good grounds for believing that the Lord takes them to Himself. I suspect there are many women and men, either deeply grieving or avoiding their grief, who need to hear precisely this. It is good and right to speak of God’s eagerness to forgive the sin of abortion. Yet as crucial as those words are, words of forgiveness cannot bring the baby back. But God can. Not here and now, but one day. Perhaps there are women and men who have held God at arm’s length, not having been able to receive peace, forgiveness, and healing because they believe their babies are forever lost—they need to hear that God has not forsaken their babies.
The world will laugh at the notion that the dead will rise, as it laughed at Jesus before he raised a little girl from the dead (Mark 5:39). It nevertheless remains a message that many are desperate to hear. Especially those who now grieve without hope.
(This reflection first appeared on November 17, 2017.)