Does the Bible Tell Us How to Deal with Grief?
- Mike Leake Borrowed Light
- 2022 21 Apr
The entire church service is interrupted by the sobs of a little girl. The preacher tries to regain the attention of the congregation but all eyes are on the young girl who is unleashing a torrent of screams. Some are concerned that she has been hurt, perhaps squashing her fingers in between a couple of chairs. But what actually happened is that her older sister took her Scooby snack gummy bears out of her kid's bag. Now she’s left with nothing. A deep sense of loss settles over her and she does the only thing she knows to do—cry out her pain.
Though it might not be one of the first words you would use to describe the emotionally distraught young lady, what she is experiencing is grief. Grief, to define it simply, is the acute pain that accompanies loss. We realize that those missing Scooby snacks will probably not be an issue for her tomorrow—and her pain can be eased rather quickly by a replacement pack.
Some grief is deeper and longer-lasting. The Disney+ series Wandavision dealt rather wonderfully with the theme of grief. It was from that series that this popular quote came: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” In that series, we see the depths in which grief can take a person—even constructing a false reality to try to handle the pain of loss.
Whether the grief is that of missing Scooby snacks or of the deeper variety like we see in Wandavision, there are many pages of the Bible that are soaked in grief. Far from being silent on grief, the Scriptures are not shy about how to deal with grief in this human reality.
What Is Grief/What Can it Look Like in Our Lives?
There is a little clip on The Simpsons where Homer, the father in the show, might have eaten a poisonous fish and is told that he will probably die within 24 hours. The doctor explains his stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, bargaining, and acceptance. He humorously goes through each stage as the doctor mentions each, spending only a fleeting moment on each stage. Those who have been through grief know that it’s not quick—nor is it predictable. The stages outlined on The Simpsons are also not the order in which they are typically presented. The most common is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance.
Those stages of grief were first formulated by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in an attempt to explain how someone confronts their own death. But as anyone who has went through grief or loss understands, those stages are not neat and tidy. In fact, there are many things that you’ll experience that do not even fit into those categories. And at times you’ll feel some of them at the same time. Far better might be the work of Sidney Zisook who outlines four major components of grief: separation distress, traumatic distress, guilt/remorse/regret, and social withdrawal. These aren’t stages as much as they are different expressions of grief. He also helpfully differentiates between acute grief and the more prolonged grief.
One of the best places to go to see a more complex experience of grief would be the biblical book of Job. Here we see Job go through various expressions of grief. There are great expressions of faith (Job 1:20-22) but as the painful experiences begin to build, we see Job’s grief turns into despair (Job 3:3-26). There is bargaining in places like Job 17, acceptance at the end of the story. And just a whirlwind of emotions and struggles throughout.
Does the Bible Tell Us How to Deal with Grief?
The Bible certainly gives plenty of examples of grief. We have mentioned Job, but we also see the confused grief of a prophet like Habakkuk, the deep pain of the prophet Jeremiah, and even the Lord Jesus experiencing a type of grief in the Garden of Gethsemane. Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t only give us examples of grief it also helps us deal with grief.
1 Thessalonians 4 is a good place to turn to learn how to deal with grief. A bad theology of death has crept its way into Thessalonica and the apostle Paul labors to help them understand more about death. In the midst of that, in 4:13, he tells us to grieve as those who have hope. It’s a reminder to place our grief into the overall story of God. There is a similar strategy in Psalm 73.
The grief of Psalm 73 is different than what is outlined in 1 Thessalonians. The grief here is of a person who is living a godly life but things keep coming up short. He looks around and notices that the ungodly seem to be living their best life now. In a sense, he is grieving what he perceives as rotten fruit that comes from godly living. But as he “went into the sanctuary of God” he was given an eternal perspective. And he saw the hand of God holding him. There are many variations of this strategy but the chief strategy in overcoming grief is to consider the big picture of God’s story.
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8 Biblical Ways to Help with Grief
I do not want to imply that any of these tips will remove grief. Nor do I want to imply that the grief you experience is somehow sinful. Yet, there are a few ways for us to move from a state of grief into a place of deeper healing.
1. Be honest. God knows what you are thinking and feeling. It does no good to not express your heart. Consider the Psalms. God inspired every one of them.
2. Read the Psalms or Lamentations. On occasion, grief will take away our ability to articulate what we are feeling. In such a season it might be helpful to consult Scriptural prayers that can give voice to what you are feeling. There are more Psalms of lament than any other type of psalm.
3. Be acquainted with the sorrows of Christ. During a dark season of my life, one of the most healing things that happened for me was to read Psalm 88. It’s a somewhat depressing psalm, but it was healing when I realized that the one who could pray it more than anyone else was Jesus when he was betrayed. It’s helpful to know that he has plummeted to the darkest of places. He understands grief. In fact, he bore our grief.
4. Pursue community. This may be one of the hardest things to do. And saying “pursue community” does not necessarily mean sharing your grief with every person within the community. Some are ill-equipped to handle our pain (see Job’s counselors). But rather consult trusted friends. Share your story. Share your heart.
5. Continue your spiritual disciplines. In seasons of grief, I’ve watched as some have been barely able to pick up a Bible or even utter a word of prayer. That’s understandable. Do what little you can. I’ve also seen those who are grieving plunge themselves deeply into spiritual disciplines. That’s good, but be sure you aren’t using spiritual things to ignore the very real pain that you are feeling. Take your grief to God through the disciplines in whatever way you can.
6. Reflect on God’s big picture story. It is helpful to rehearse the good news of Jesus to your own heart. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Glory. Reflect upon eternity. Spend time in Revelation 21-22. Trust in the promise that Jesus is making all things news.
7. Share your comfort with others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that as we’ve been comforted so also we share comfort with others. I’m reminded of the story of Patch Adams, who took his depression and used it to comfort others. In so doing, he found that some of his depression lifted. Again, be sure you are actually processing your emotions—but it’s incredibly helpful as you are working through your own pain to share the comfort you’ve already received with someone else who might be struggling.
8. Hang on. Don’t give up fighting for joy. There will be several unique temptations in this season, it’s helpful to be aware of this. Keep hanging on to Jesus.
The Bible, thankfully, is not silent when it comes to how to deal with grief. And part of the reason for this is because Jesus Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. This is a helpful reminder as we go through our own struggles. Alexander MacLaren says it well:
Oh, when we are journeying through the murky night and the dark woods of affliction and sorrow, it is something to find here and there a spray broken, or a leafy stem bent down with the tread of His foot and the brush of His hand as He passed; and to remember that the path He trod He has hallowed, and thus to find lingering fragrance and hidden strength in the remembrance of Him as "in all points tempted like as we are," bearing grief for us, bearing grief with us, bearing grief like us.
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