By Pastor Anthony Caples
“I’m sorry for your loss”. These words have been spoken in what has become an automated response we proclaim when we hear the news of the death of a family member or loved one. This simple phrase is meant to acknowledge the death of the beloved person, and convey sympathy and compassion to those left behind, embarking on a new journey of grief.
Death is a natural part of our experience of life, but unexpected, tragic deaths are difficult to process. Quite frankly, these unfortunate deaths often leave us at a greater loss of words than under “normal” circumstances of the death of a loved one.
Ahmaud Arbery’s death for many was another unexpected, tragic loss in which we struggle to find the words to comfort those hurting from another life abruptly ended by violence. Ahmaud’s life has been added to the pantheon of African Americans in recent years whose last moments on this earth have been captured on video. These horrifying images have become a testament to our collective trauma that has invoked a myriad of emotions and opinions on justice, race relations, and history.
In the midst of all that’s being said, the question posed is what is the response of the Church and our response as believers? What does the Bible have to say about this?
As I’ve prayed and reflected on how I’ve processed the death of Mr. Arbery, the words of Paul to the Romans in the 12th chapter spoke to my heart. It was a reminder of what Paul was conveying to his audience of how they should conduct themselves as believers. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”. These words have been echoing in my mind as the Spirit began to show me why in processing my emotions around this death caused anxiety and pain. I could finally articulate what I was feeling: Do we as a church weep with those that are weeping?
I, like many others, didn’t know Ahmaud Arbery personally. I don’t know the complexities of his life and backstory. I’m uncertain if he was a believer in Christ. What I am certain of is that all life is precious, and Ahmaud Arbery was created in the image of God just like you and me. I acknowledge that my grief and mourning over his death is complex and personal because too often those whom’s last moments that have been tragically immortalized on video have looked like me. The fear of some random, everyday situation that could end in my demise is real and is a byproduct of the fallen world that we live in. With that being said, I return to the larger question, have we wept with those who are weeping?
As those who have opened our hearts to the gospel, we have become members of the family of God. And as family, we should have a desire to look after the wellbeing of our family members. Paul’s words are a reminder to us to be sensitive to each other’s journey, to recognize our joys and triumphs, to acknowledge our heartache and pain. One does not have to be African American to feel that pain of the loss of Ahmaud Arbery, a heart that loves your neighbor as yourself is the only prerequisite.
When there’s a death in the family, sometimes words suffice. Comfort for the loss is sometimes spoken in the language of tears. Sometimes comfort is just being present. Whatever form it may take, those weeping are grateful for the acknowledgment. May we as the body of believers live out these words, “we’re sorry for your loss”.