Grief is a complex set of emotions that are actually “normal.” The emotions accompanying grief will vary mainly depending on personalities and the depth of the loss incurred. People grieving may experience their loss psychologically through feelings, thoughts, and attitudes, socially as they interact with others, and physically as it will also affect their health. Grief will usually eat us up from the inside. It may be primarily emotional, but it will sometimes involve physical pain. As one thinks deeply about the person or thing they have lost, there may be thoughts of what could have been. They miss their voices, scents, jokes, embrace and company, and they desire to turn back the hands of time to enjoy more of those pleasant memories with them. Most will have sleepless nights, which take a toll on their bodies. The mind-crashing thoughts and the tears end up causing continuous headaches. All these things combined bring about much pain and discomfort.
Grief is indeed nothing desirable. No one ever looks forward to it, so we choose to avoid the topic altogether. When a loved one experiences grief, we are mostly bankrupt on how to come through for them. Many of us catch ourselves wondering, Now what do I say to them? But the Bible has a lot to say about grief. In this article, we will explore the ins and outs of grief from Biblical lenses.
Grief in the Bible
We see many instances of grief in Scripture. Among the people grieving were David and Jesus. David mourned the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:17). He lamented for Jonathan with the following words: “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). Likewise, Jesus was deeply moved by the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:38). Jesus had loved Lazarus so profoundly, that he wept on his demise. It was so evident that the Jews there noticed and commented, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36).
Grief would not be there if God did not give it to us, and everything that comes from God is certainly good for us (John 3:27; Romans 8:28). It is good to express your grief in words in light of God’s sovereignty. Lamentation, for instance, is a book filled with writings of a grieving soul. Jeremiah is expressing his pain to God in words. He acknowledges that God causes grief and is simultaneously the one who shows compassion because of his steadfast love (Lamentations 3:30-32). This is a stable place to be when the bitter cup of death comes your way.
I lost a cousin in a very tragic road accident. Two years later, her brother committed suicide. A month after that, their father fell sick and got diagnosed with a very rare condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and sadly three months later, he passed on. I remember my aunt crying while confessing her pain at being bereaved. Her agony was undoubtedly evident. She was petrified; her skin grew pale, and her body weakened. We were scared that she, too, might die because of grief. It took a long time for her to heal; sometimes, those painful emotions return, especially around the anniversary of her loved ones’ deaths.
For some people, grief is short term while for others, it goes on for a lifetime. Grief is so personal, and every individual will grieve uniquely. Therefore, we should learn to respect other people’s manifestations of grief (Romans 15:2).
Why Grief is a Good Thing
We have already seen how sad, painful and hence undesirable grief is. The sorrow it brings is insurmountable. So how can it again be a good thing? Despite the many troubles we go through, the fact remains that there is nothing we have that is not from God (John 3:27). God created us in his image and likeness, and part of the qualities he graciously gave us is the ability to experience grief. Furthermore, we already know that God is incapable of sinning or experiencing anything sinful because he is pure and holy (Isaiah 57:15). If Christ could grieve, then grieving is not evil. God works all things (including grief) for good to those who love him and are called by his name (Romans 8:28). Here are some reasons that grief is a good gift from God.
- Grief is an expression of love towards those that have departed. Imagine someone losing someone as close as a spouse and throwing a party instead of mourning. What would you think of the bereaved spouse? In the Bible, we see David grieving the death of his close friend Jonathan by confessing his heart’s true feelings. He was distressed and wept deeply because he loved Jonathan (2 Samuel 2:26).
- Grief reminds us of the severe effects of the Fall (Romans 5:12-14). Sin came through one man Adam, and sin brought death, so since we all have sinned, our end is death (Romans 3:23;6:23). The death of a loved one is bound to be painful, so we grieve. Grieving should be a constant reminder that sin is with us, but if our hope is in Christ, our eternal comfort is soon coming.
- It gives us a glimpse of what grieving the Holy Spirit means (Ephesians 4:30). Ephesians 4:30 warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. We grieve the Holy Spirit every time we sin. Since the Holy Spirit is God and he loves us so much, he is always in deep sorrow when he sees our redeemed selves choosing sin over righteousness. The pain he feels is so deep for words that he even helps us pray because we lack words to pray (Romans 8:26). Grief, when viewed rightly, can stir us to live godly lives. And so, whenever we fall short, we should mourn over it and repent so that the Lord will give us comfort (Matthew 5:4).
- Grief reminds us of the hope we have in Christ for the resurrection of our bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). When Christ died, he rose on the third day, and now he is seated on the right-hand side of the Father in heaven (Hebrews 1:3). He promised that we would also be raised with him (1Corinthians 15:51-52). The pain we experience, including the agonies of grief, should make us desire the resurrection of those who have gone before us in Christ.
- Grief turns our focus to Christ and intensifies our prayers (Psalm 31:9, 119:28). While we grieve, we are the most vulnerable. We encounter feelings of loneliness, helplessness and even hopelessness. We are more drawn to God during these moments as children of God. After losing his entire family in a tragic accident at sea, Horatio Spafford wrote and sang the amazing hymn ‘It is well with my Soul’ that wholly points to Christ. He is quoted saying that he was able to trust in the Lord when it cost him something. God uses grief to awaken our souls to the realities of eternal life (John 3:16).
For as long as Christ is yet to return, it is guaranteed that we will experience death. Some of our loved ones will go ahead of us. Despite the pain caused, as Christians, we must remember that without death, there wouldn’t have been the redemption of our sins (Galatians 1:4). So, Christians must grieve with hope. We must have hope that death will one day also die (Revelations 21:4). We will reunite with all the saints in heaven and spend eternity with our Saviour (1Thessalonians 4:13). How glorious it shall be!
Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins, The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling: Personal and Emotional Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 130.
Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins, The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling: Personal and Emotional Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 133.