For Luther, Jesus does something much better for those who grieve than simply identify with them: He brings suffering and evil to an end in His own death. In the case of Justus Jonas’s deceased wife, Luther asserts that “One must find [consolation] in the spirit, in the realization that she has gone on before us to Him who has called us all and who in his good time will take us from the misery and wickedness of this world unto himself” (p. 75). Likewise, in the case of a man who died subsequent to a suicide attempt, Luther enjoins his readers to take consolation in the fact that “Christ struggled like this in the Garden [of Gethsemane], yet he won the victory at last and was raised from the dead” (p. 59).
For Luther, Jesus does something much better for those who grieve than simply identify with them: He brings suffering and evil to an end in His own death.
Luther’s pastoral care in light of suicide is particularly revealing of the deeper logic to his approach. Luther writes elsewhere that suicide is an act of the devil in one’s life, much like a robber attacking and killing a person in the forest (see pp. 58–59). However, suicide exemplifies the human ambition to take ownership over life and death––an ownership which ultimately belongs to God Himself alone. Luther makes God’s lordship over life and death very clear and also a very important part of his consolation for the bereaved. If we imagine suicide as an attempt to wrest control of lordship over death from Jesus Christ, then this is a struggle, Christ will win every time.
All of life is a gift from God, for Luther. It is His to give and His to take as well. In both of these acts––of giving and taking––God is to be upheld as a dear and faithful God (pp. 53–54). There is no escape from this most active God who works all things, both life and death (Deut. 32:39), for the good of His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Most strategies of dealing with suffering and grief try to search the casual chain of events, read the tea leaves (so to speak), and understand why God would permit evil. The result is usually either the conclusion that God Himself is evil, or that the sinner’s self-correction would improve the matter. Luther writes that it “is characteristic of our human nature to think what we wish is best and what God does is unsatisfactory to us. But it would not be good if our will were always done because we would then become too sure of ourselves. It is enough for us that we have a gracious God. Why he permits this or that evil to befall us should not trouble us at all” (p. 69)
Luther finds immense comfort in this for the bereaved. Those who mourn can rest certain in the knowledge that whatever happens in life or death, all things have been made for Jesus Christ. The suffering we endure for now is the surface upon which God enacts His own faithfulness to the promise to bring forth life from death. Suffering and loss challenge this promise itself, but the strange and unexpected byproduct of this conflict between the promise and its contradiction is a sure, certain, and unshakeable hope (Rom. 5:4–5).