Grieving With Hope

PCA Pastor Helps Others Cope With Loss

His Only Son Was on Board TWA Flight 800 Two Years Ago

Jim Alexander knows what it means to grieve. His only son, Matthew, was killed two years ago when Trans World Airways Flight 800, en route to Paris, blew up and crashed shortly after take-off from JFK International Airport in New York.

Matthew Alexander, a Wake Forest University student with a knack for foreign languages, was on his way to study in France. Many might wonder at how a good God would allow such a tragedy to happen, and especially why such a tragic death would come to this bright, intelligent, dedicated young man not quite twenty-one years old.

But for Matthew's father, questioning God or asking 'Why?' is not the appropriate response. Jim knows that the sovereignty of God is the key to dealing with grief. "God rules sovereignly over life and death. It's His right to take life as well as to give life." Questions regarding God's Providences and His justice come up "because of wrong presuppositions about God and Who He is."

But there is a positive side to grief, according to Jim Alexander. "Grief is not bad. Grief is a part of living in this fallen world." It also is intended to have a sanctifying effect, and to enable us to reach out to those who do not yet know Christ.

Indeed, the tragedy of TWA 800 has led Mr. Alexander to unique opportunities of ministry. He has used the occasion of his loss to testify of his faith and to help others come to terms with their own losses of loved ones.

He has written several tracts which set forth the basis for his comfort in affliction. "my son-His Son" speaks of Matthew's character; and then states that the "perfect Son of God became the reason that my son was obedient, delightful, and loving. He carried Matthew's sins, trials, grief, and pain and so I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, stood with my son in those last seconds on TWA 800. His Son says, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" The tract challenges its readers: "Will you, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, enter into a saving relationship with the living and true God?"

"A Father's Love under The Father's Love" begins with this acknowledgement: "I loved my son with an intensity that he reciprocated throughout his earthly days. That intensity of affection sharpens the edge of my present grief. Oh, I loved my son. I still love my son even though I must wait to look upon him again, and I long to be reunited in a love that will dwarf our first love. I want to tell you about my love for my son." Jim challenges fathers to love their children by teaching them, governing them, and worshipping with them. He writes: "Christian grief crystallizes the hope of the gospel. The promise of full redemption in glory had, since conversion, been a part of my faith, but now that hope shines brighter within my soul. The hope in Christ has a reality that it never had before. I love for that hope more than for the passing desires of life. . . . Loving my son has brought heart rending grief even as it has brought joy in the hope of full redemption in Christ."

Other tracts available include "Grief with Hope," "Can I Ever Pray Again," and "Becoming One Flesh."

Jim Alexander's ministry has also taken on several other dimensions. One is a monthly newsletter, entitled "Grieving With Hope." He began by sending this simple four-page publication to all the families of victims of TWA 800. He is moving to build a core of people who are benefiting from his pastoral insights. Another aspect of this ministry is personal counseling for people who write or call. And, he has also presented seminars on grief.

At those seminars, he tries to bring the participants "to understand grief from a Biblical perspective." He wants them to know God's help to the grievers and His care for them.

An Associate Evangelist with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF), Jim has presented his seminar on grief at the last two PEF summer conferences. His Grieving With Hope ministry is under PEF auspices.

Jim has not seen anyone make a profession of faith through this ministry. The ministry has been geared toward "Christians who are struggling with grief." Mr. Alexander notes: "We certainly have ministered to a lot of people who have looked at grief in a different way." He stated that about one day per week is dedicated to this ministry, while the rest of his time is spent on pastoral work as the minister of Faith Presbyterian Church, Florence, SC.

As for the Alexander family, Jim says: "We're moving on with the Lord. We're learning a lot about grief. Sometimes God wakes us up like this to the reality of the fallenness of creation and the longing for the restoring of all things with the return of Christ." He notes: "God is gracious. He is our comforter. He has restored to us the joy of our salvation."

The Rev. Mr. James J. Alexander

Grieving With Hope

PO Box 7100

Florence, SC 29502-7100