Christ wants us to know:
They didn't die. Only their body died. John 11:26. The soul of a Christian is infused with God's own life, when he or she trusts in Christ. The Christian soul is made immortal by the life and power of God, and as a result the Christian soul never experiences death.
The Lord takes them instantly to Heaven. They don't go to sleep, or purgatory, or limbo. We read this in 2 Corinthians 5:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on[a] we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
In other words, no one in Heaven is sad that they left us. Christ brought them safely home! They're joyful, and all they need to do is wait for us to catch up and join them.
God doesn't take the passing of any of His children lightly. Psalm 116:15: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Christ knows what it felt like to die. He doesn't treat us like a gruff drill-sergeant.
Christ's resurrection is our assurance of our Christian loved one's survival and glory: 1 Corinthians 15 -- 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
We grieve for any suffering they experienced in life, or suffering in the process of leaving us; but the Lord also assures us that all that suffering is swallowed up in the wink of an eye, as soon as they enter glory.
Romans 8:18 -- I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
No one in Heaven is sad, or brooding over the memory of sufferings of their earthly life. There, every tear is wiped from every eye. All memory of mortal suffering disappears, like one little drop of iodine disintegrates when dripped into the Pacific Ocean. Our short time of pain is engulfed by an eternity of future happiness.
So, we do not grieve in the same way that unbelievers grieve, that is, in despair and without hope. Christ's birth brought Him into this dying world, Good Friday took Him out, Easter brought Him back immortal, and that's how He gave us all hope.
I know many fellow Christians who have experienced the loss of loved ones -- loved ones who passed away without confessing faith in Jesus Christ. Christ clearly believed in heaven and hell, so this is a serious matter. The Bible consoles Christians when believing loved ones pass. But does it have anything to say when non-Christian loved ones pass on?
I would encourage Christians who lose a loved one with the fact that we usually don't know what happened between a person and God in the hours, or minutes, or even seconds, before life is done. I'm confident that Heaven has many people in it whom the Lord snatched like a stick out of the fire. The thief on the cross became a saved person in his last moments of life, and the same possibility exists for anyone. Luke 23:43. So, there is always hope of that having happened.
I think it's also important to believe in God's fairness. When Abraham was negotiating with God regarding Sodom's judgment, he said, "Far be it from You to kill the righteous along with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Abraham knew something about God that is very important. God will not treat any man or woman unfairly. Even though this truth is not like the rejoicing we experience over a soul saved, that confidence in God's integrity is important.
God also deals with people individually. He once said to Ezekiel, "Every soul is Mine" (Ezekiel 18:4). I think this is important because it's in my nature to think of someone as my mother, my father, my sister, or my friend. But to God, that person's most important relationship was to Him. God made them for Himself (Romans 11:36, Colossians 1:16). God, as God, has a special claim on that person which supersedes everyone else.
I think it also matters quite a bit that God finds no enjoyment in passing judgment on anyone. He said this clearly, forcefully, in Ezekiel 18:32. He showed it with tears in Luke 19:41. God is no monster. He judges because He's righteous. God is love, even in His role as Judge.
This truth strongly implies that God doesn't cause anyone to sin. For instance, God says forcefully about the Hebrews, "They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35). The Hebrews' sins were entirely their own doing.
God didn't sovereignly, irresistibly cause them to sin, and then play-act that He was appalled. God's relationship to sin is that He ordains it (in the sense that it's part of His over-all plan) but He doesn't cause it (James 1:13-14). In other words, God didn't cause my non-Christian loved one to be unbelieving; God didn't cause my loved one to die in unbelief.
We can't force anyone to repent and believe in Christ, and the passing of a non-Christian loved one reminds us of that. We share in the apostle Paul's unhappiness over the stubbornness of blood kin (see Romans 9:1-3). The Lord wants us to do what we can in this life, even if that's limited to prayer, and then we trust that God, being God, will always do the right thing.
Advent Meditation from 1st Corinthians 13:
Love is patient – God took centuries to prepare the way for the Savior.
Love is kind – God took pity on all of us in our sins and sorrows.
Love is not possessive – Christ did not cling to heaven’s privileges.
Love does not brag – Christ never boasted.
Love isn’t arrogant – Christ came to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Love doesn’t act unbecomingly – Christ was born and lived without sin.
Love doesn’t seek its own – Christ sacrificed His glory for us.
Love isn’t provoked – In spite of all the ways the human race provoked God through the centuries, God sent His Son for us anyway.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered – Christ forgave and accepted people from the groups who had killed Him.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth – God’s opposition to unrighteousness led Him to save us from it.
Dear Lord, You say You are love, and in Your Son’s birth we see Your love on full display. Your love, born as a man. Lord, we don’t deserve your love, and we can’t earn it, but we gladly receive it. Let this candle remind us of the love-light that You lit that amazing morning.