The Sentence of Death: Finding Hope When Life Feels Hopeless

I have sat with parents who have lost children and cried as they told their gut-wrenching stories. In those moments, there are no platitudes or antidotes that remove the sting. In fact, “sting” is insufficient as a description. “Death blow” gets closer.

My wife and I have a ministry to parents who have lost children through Knowing Jesus Ministries. We gather a few times per year with families from around the country who share this heart-shattering and soul-rocking experience. It is life-giving every time we do it. We also dread it every time. The stories are often too much to bear. One family lost a child who was left in a car seat at daycare because they forgot to check on him while he slept. His oxygen was cut off from not being able to control his head. One little girl died of cancer and slowly eroded over a 7-month period. Others have lost sons and daughters to car accidents, even suicide. We lost our son to health issues that he suffered over fifteen years. Every story is devastating because you meet the devastated parents who have to keep going on without their children.

One woman, who with her husband, was only two months removed from burying their teenage daughter from a car accident, stated frankly, “I’m angry at God.” Of course, I could have given her a dissertation on why she shouldn’t be, and how it could even be considered sinful, but I didn’t. I simply grieved with them. Why? Because I get it. I know the pain they feel. I know they are looking for somewhere to direct their pain. The deep, heavy weight of permanence sits on the heart of every parent who buries a child. You not only grieve the loss of their presence, but you grieve the loss of all the things that will never be. No graduations. No weddings. No grandchildren. No more memories. No more trips. No more conversations. Everything looks backwards, because that’s the only place they are now—in your memories. I know you are ready to theologically correct me—just like I could have done with that woman—and tell me about the future we have in Christ. And you are correct. But I’m expressing what the lived experience feels like.

It feels like the sentence of death. Paul described this in 2 Corinthians 1:9. His afflictions multiplied as he traveled planting churches and ministering to believers. Not only did he receive physical beatings, but he landed in jail many times. Paul said he and his companions “were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Not many people can resonate with that kind of description. But families who have lost children can. It is a burden beyond our strength to carry. The grief sometimes makes us despair of life itself. It feels like the sentence of death that will never pass.

But Paul says at the end of verse 9, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The burden is beyond our ability to cope with it. The only recourse we have is to rely completely on the God who raises the dead. God, who did the impossible in raising Jesus from the dead, is able to sustain us in our burdens. It may feel beyond repair. The burden’s heaviness is not something any parent has the shoulders to carry. However, in Christ, we do not have to try. He is the God who delivers (2 Corinthians 1:10).

Does this mean that it undoes our loss? No. It does not. That loss will remain a thorn in our flesh for the rest of our lives (2 Corinthians 12:7). There will never be a moment on this side of eternity where the wound is not fresh. However, through the sustaining grace of Christ, and the power of God who raised Christ from the dead, and the prayers of the church (2 Corinthians 1:11), He keeps us from melting into an inconsolable puddle on the floor.

How can we minister to families who have suffered such a deep loss? What hope do we have to offer them? We can’t bring their children back, and we certainly cannot provide some magic bullet that makes everything feel better. No, the hope we have as we minister to these families is that God will keep sustaining them, one day at a time.

The ‘sentence of death’ causes us to rely not on ourselves, but God. As we do that, we discover He has the power and willingness to sustain us through our most unthinkable circumstances. He can do the same for you too.

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Note: If you or someone you know would like to participate in one of our upcoming Hopeful Sufferers Weekends, please contact us:

Erik is the Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon. He also founded Knowing Jesus Ministries, an organization which exists to proclaim timeless truth for everyday life. He is married to Katrina, and has three children: Kaleb (who went to be with the Lord), Kaleigh Grace, and Kyra Piper. 


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