There is nothing comforting about death, especially in the face of COVID-19, despite the fact that as we age and as death punctuates our existence, we become more acclimated to its chilling reality. We never anticipated the impact of this pandemic; the losses grow daily. To never hear that voice again or to feel that warm embrace; to never experience those interactions forged through the unique expression of personality—those ways that set them apart from all others, those ways that defy the expressions of written language—leave us mystified. The unspeakable hollowness and its attending sense of finality seldom fail to evoke in us a determination to realize the promise of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NASB): “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
What is clear is that the apostle Paul had been exposed to people who grieved without hope, more specifically, young and early believers—at the genesis of the church—who didn’t have the benefit of the profound teaching of Christ’s resurrection. For many of them, there was no consideration of the conviction that attended the voice of the angel who declared to Mary, “He is not here, He is risen” (Matthew 28:6), nor of the power that decimated death and the grave—the twin consequences of sin—when Jesus arose and shook them off. So here was Paul’s news flash: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
How, a non-believer might ask, can anyone’s grief be mitigated by the condition “if”? The apostle Paul seems to suggest that on condition of our belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection our sense of loss and detachment can be assuaged. In other words, if I believe, then the comfort kicks in, but if I do not believe, I am left to an almost bottomless sense of loss.
Few translations do justice to Paul’s intent. The words are right, but the meaning is obfuscated in the translation of the second word of verse 14. Notice how the English Standard Version translates it: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again . . .”
There is a world of difference between the conditional assertion of “if” and the confident affirmation of “since.” While “if” has to patiently await the arrival of “then” in order to be completed, “since” actively invests in a foregone conclusion that is indicative of a steadfast faith; and that was the reason for Paul’s news flash. While it wasn’t “Breaking News,” it was the unchanged, immutable hope for the believer in every age.
“Since we believe . . .” we can face tomorrow; we can live in hope; we can walk with our heads up; we can celebrate the goodness and the grace of God, and we can live with the assurance that God will keep His precious promises.
—Abraham Jules is the senior pastor of the Community Worship Center Seventh-day Adventist Church.