In times of trouble, it’s helpful to have a network of people to turn to. Going through hardship alone makes it more difficult to bear those challenges and knowing that others have experienced similar things can be a real comfort. When we read about grief in the Bible, we are given a picture of life in all its complexity. We come across stories of joy, pain, gains and losses, life and death, war and peace, betrayals and abiding loyalty, marriages, and more.Even though the people in these accounts lived thousands of years ago in a land foreign to most of us, their basic humanity, and the struggles they face come through powerfully. We see the messiness of human life on full display in the pages of the Bible. We also see people in painful situations finding real joy and hope to sustain them on the way.
With the breadth of issues portrayed in the Bible, it’s no surprise then that the Bible addresses grief. Many things in this world can bring us grief, such as losing a loved one due to illness, death, or divorce; the ending of a meaningful relationship such as a friendship; being laid off from work or having a dream fall apart. Grief can come into our lives in all of these and many other ways.
Grief doesn’t always follow a predictable path. The well-known five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – aren’t a step-by-step map for how your grief will unfold.
Each person’s grief takes its own route, and in many cases, grief doesn’t go away – one simply learns to live with the loss. Some days the pain washes over you afresh, and on other days you find you’ve adjusted to the loss and are enjoying life.
It’s important that you know your limits and that you seek help from a mental health professional if your grief is overwhelming and is preventing you from getting back to work, school, or other pursuits that make up a full and rich life.
Grief in the Bible: Examples from Scripture
Grief is a natural part of life
In thinking about grief, one place to start is to recognize that grief is a natural part of life. Ecclesiastes 3 reads in part, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”Ever since Genesis 3, our lives have been marked by the reality of brokenness amid beauty. Grief will come to us sooner or later. Some people treat loss and grief as an unnatural thing – they may even act as though they haven’t experienced the pain of loss, burying their grief in work or play, and risky behavior such as substance abuse or sexual promiscuity.
Acknowledging the reality and place of grief helps us to deal with those times when we meet loss. Others may be convinced that as believers, there’s no room in their lives for anything other than celebration and praise.
However, there is a season for everything, and we only deny ourselves the opportunity of healing when we don’t take the opportunity to grieve when we need to. When Jesus lost his friend Lazarus to death, he wept (John 11:35). If Jesus grieved that loss and others in his life, we too can take the time to grieve our losses.
Grief can break into our lives unexpectedly
Situations that bring grief in their wake can come upon us unexpectedly. We can’t always predict when grief comes our way. Proverbs 14:13 says, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.” One such example that also comes from the Bible is the death of Rachel in childbirth (Genesis 35:16-20).
What was going to be an occasion of extraordinary joy in the birth of a child turned into a bitter-sweet celebration of a new son while mourning the loss of the child’s mother. Situations that cause grief can arise quite unexpectedly – after becoming pregnant, starting a new job, graduating from college, moving to a new city, or having just met the love of your life.
Grief affects us – mind, body, and soul
The Psalms provide us with several vivid pictures of how grief can affect us. Imagery relayed through words such as being “poured out like water,” “my heart has turned to wax and has melted away within me,” “my tears have been my food day and night” are several of the pictures painted for us to feel the depth of loss and suffering.
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. – Psalm 31:9
When in grief, some people do not eat; they cry, they lose sleep, they feel the anguish of their loss. While it may seem unimportant, you must continue looking out for your emotional, mental, and spiritual health at a time when you may be consumed by other thoughts.
God knows our griefs
God knows everything. God knows our thoughts, our fears, hopes, and our pain. But God doesn’t know these things from afar. Not only does God come alongside us in our grief, but one of the remarkable ideas in the Bible is that God became one of us. Not only did Jesus experience griefs of his own, but he also bore our griefs. Written some seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus Isaiah 53 tells us something of what Jesus would do when he arrived on earth.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes, we are healed” – Isaiah 53: 3-5
Jesus is well acquainted with our griefs; not in a generalized sort of way, but intimately and with us. He walked among us and experienced life as a human being, and so we know that when we take our sorrows to him, he knows what we’re going through (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Grief isn’t forever
Some griefs that we experience mark us for life, while others are for a season and we manage to find our new normal quickly. As we noted above, grief isn’t the kind of thing that evaporates, and we can act like it never happened. It can manifest in new situations and it doesn’t always take the same form.For example, a young boy can mourn the loss of his father in one way when he is a child. When that child grows up and has a child of his own, he might grieve the loss of his father in a new way because of what he missed out on. In this way, grief isn’t a closed door that we close and never revisit. Grieving old wounds in new ways can be healthy and a natural progression of the process.
One thing the Bible reminds us of and encourages us is to not grieve like people who don’t believe in God do. Death is one of the more consistent causes of grief, but because Christians believe in a resurrection, we know that death is not the last word; there is hope for more, for life.
Brother and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep or to grieve like the rest of humanity, who have no hope. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13
In light of Jesus’ resurrection, the specter of death loses its sting and doesn’t have the last word on life. Our grief may last a season or the rest of our lives, but it is not without hope because of who God is. We can grieve with hope.
Our losses and grief will be resolved in the resurrection where God promises to wipe our tears from our eyes.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ – Revelation 21:1-4
The order of things in which we lose people and relationships, experience suffering, and death will come to an end, and God, like a loving parent, will wipe our tears away. Knowing that reality can sustain us even on the darkest of days in our grief.
“Stairway to Heaven”, Courtesy of Tumisu, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Who’s Crying Now?”, Courtesy of Karen Nadine, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “In Loving Memory”, Courtesy of aitoff, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Cemetery”, Courtesy of MoneyforCoffee, Pixabay.com, CC0 License
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