Grief is a powerful, complicated, and often debilitating experience. When we lose someone or something we love, whether, to death or some other loss, it can feel as if time stops. For some of us, life changes forever.
Many of us grow deeply and bitterly angry with God in our grief. We feel betrayed and question why he would “take away” something so precious to us, or we feel like we are being punished. Pretenses fall away, and we succumb to raw emotion, whether despair or rage.
Others find themselves drawn fully into the arms of God like a baby bird nestled carefully in the safe and protective wings of its mother, pouring out our grief to the only One who understands us perfectly.
The Bible has a great deal of insight into how people deal with grief — and a perfect model in our Savior, Jesus Christ, of how we are supposed to deal with grief.
What does it look like to deal with grief? Let’s take a look at some examples, as well as how we should deal with grief.
What Is Grief?
Grief is deep sorrow as a response to loss, especially a loss caused by someone’s death. While grief is usually thought of as the emotional response to this loss, there are also physical, mental, behavioral, social, cultural, and other aspects involved.
Grief might involve the death of a spouse, friend, or close relative. It might also involve the loss of a major aspect of one’s life, such as a longtime job, the selling of one’s home, a divorce, or a debilitating illness.
Many psychologists believe there are five primary ways we respond to grief. Sometimes we cycle through these five stages quickly, and sometimes they are prolonged over the course of a year or more. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
How Is Grief Portrayed in the Bible?
We see grief in a number of ways throughout Scripture.
In the Book of Job, we’re told how this righteous man experiences wave after wave of loss — all of his livestock, his devoted servants, and his precious children, seven sons, and three daughters.
Soon after, he is afflicted with painful sores from his feet to his head. The Bible tells us his first reaction is to rise up in shock, tear his clothes, and shave his head.
While his friends initially show compassion in his grief, sitting in silence with him as a show of support and love, they ultimately attack his character and question what he did to cause this tragedy to befall him. Job cries out to God in lamentation and anguish.
In Ruth, the book opens as Naomi has just lost her husband and two sons. A foreigner, she prepares to return to her homeland, Judah and believes the Lord has turned against her.
Indeed, she even changes her name from Naomi (meaning “pleasant”) to Mara (meaning “bitter”), for as she said, “Because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Ultimately, however, she is redeemed when her faithful daughter-in-law remarries and carries on the family line with Boaz.
In 1 Samuel, we have the example of Hannah, a barren woman who has experienced constant torment about her childless state.
Year after year, she goes to the temple and weeps forlornly, and one year, she makes a vow to the Lord, dedicating her child to God as a Nazirite if only He will enable her to conceive. Ultimately, she gives birth to Samuel, who becomes a prophet of the Lord and fulfills her vow.
And in 2 Samuel, we see grief through King David, referred to as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), who mourned the loss of Saul, his best friend Jonathan, and his first son with Bathsheba by crying out to the Lord and submitting to His will.
Each of these people looked to God in their grief, expressing their sorrow boldly.
How Did Jesus Respond to Grief?
The Bible also shows us how Jesus responded to grief. In John 11 and Matthew 23, we’re told how Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had fallen ill.
By the time Jesus gets to the village of Bethany, he finds Lazarus has already died and been entombed. There, he is confronted by Lazarus’s sisters, also dear to Jesus.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha and Mary each tell him (John 11:22,32).
We’re told Jesus is “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” at their grief (John 11:33). And when he is told where Lazarus has been buried, the Bible says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Later, after the Last Supper, Jesus also experiences deep grief, this time over the prospect of his own crucifixion and the pain it will cause both him and those who love him.
He retreats with his closest friends to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives, telling his friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
Then he begs God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
As we know, Jesus did go on to experience the pain of the crucifixion — betrayal, arrest, humiliation, torture, and ultimately an extraordinarily painful death on the cross before a jeering crowd and weeping supporters. He endured the grief, looking to God while expressing his sorrow.
How Should We Respond to Grief?
This is a big lesson for us, the followers of Christ today. Sometimes, suffering happens. It might feel unbearable.
But the most important thing we are to do is turn to God in the midst of our pain. God is with us “in the darkest valley” (Psalm 23:4).
We might feel agony, but we can take comfort that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We can express our pain to God, knowing he hears us and understands us. We can and should mourn loudly and with abandon. We should rely on the support of others we love, who can help shoulder our pain or at least sit with us in solidarity.
Sometimes they can be of help; other times, they make things worse. We might also consider counseling, deeper support from our church, and other avenues that keep us out of isolation, where we can fall prey to darker moments.
As Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is the way of the people of God, who are called to be one body in Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:27).
It is important to understand there is no single “right way” to grieve. But we should remember that God grieves with us. Jesus experienced grief, and it’s not something to push through or ignore. Grief is part of love.
We can take heart that if a loved one who died knew Jesus, we will be with them again one day in eternity. If they did not, perhaps in the moments before their passing, they somehow came to Christ.
Finally, may we all rest in the hope that one day, our grief will end. As we are promised, “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 21:4).
Amen. Thanks be to God.
For further reading:
How Should a Christian Respond to Grief?
What Should Christians Know about Grief Counseling?
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.