Dealing with Grief

Grief is a feeling of deep sorrow. It is experienced in response to the loss of something that is very important to us. Since people prioritize things differently, this might be the loss of one’s good health or of a friend’s health, a job, a pet or some valued possession. One might also experience grief as a result of being mistreated or harmed by other people. Typically however, grief is most strongly experienced in response to the loss of a loved one. Jacob was so grieved over the loss (presumed loss) of his son Joseph that he refused to be comforted by his family members and said that he would go down to his grave mourning the loss of his son (Genesis 37:35). This demonstrates how powerful grief can be as an emotion.

Humans eventually experience grief for one reason or another. Grief is an inevitable fact of life. Most people will actually experience many periods of grief over the course of their lives. The important thing is how we deal with our grief. Sadly, many people allow grief to turn into depression which affects their personal relations with others, including their spouses, children, parents and friends. They become withdrawn and unproductive. Some turn to alcohol or other illicit drugs. Some commit suicide. King David’s servants were reluctant to tell him that his newborn son had died for fear that he might “harm himself” (2 Samuel 12:18). Some people even blame God for the cause of their grief. Prolonged grief can make people bitter and irrational. Grief serves a necessary purpose but failure to control it can have disastrous results.

People should not think it strange that they occasionally encounter periods of grief. Even God grieves over various conditions and we are creatures made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).

God grieved because of the sinful condition of humanity in the pre-flood era and He even regretted having “made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6). He later grieved over Israel’s sinful behavior that resulted in the wilderness wandering — “It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways” (Psalm 95:10; Hebrews 3:10). Jesus was grieved over the hardness of men’s hearts (Mark 3:5). He was also put to grief by the cruel treatment of others and by being rejected by His own people (Isaiah 53:3, 10). Jesus “groaned in His spirit” when He saw Mary weeping after the loss of her brother Lazarus. He wept when He saw Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:33, 35). We know that the Holy Spirit is capable of experiencing grief, for we are warned to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).

Some Causes Of Grief

The death of loved ones is perhaps the most common source of deep grief but before examining that subject let us consider some other sources and reasons:

  • Job had “great” grief because of his own physical illness (Job 2:13). Many people experience this type of grief, whether on account of their own serious illness or because of the illness of a loved one. The book of Job proves that ultimately, it is not the words of our friends that can help us the most, but the words of God that are translated into strong faith (Romans 10:17).
  • David grieved because of transgressors who refused to keep God’s word and who rose up against God (Psalm 119:158; 139:21). Christians today experience this sorrow. They know what the Bible teaches about the consequences of sin and they want people to take those consequences more seriously. They want them to “do the will” of our Father in Heaven (Matthew 7:21).
  • David was also grieved by his own sin (Psalm 31:9, 10). Note that David’s grief was relieved by his own repentance and by God’s forgiving him (Psalm 32:3-5). We today are not under the same spiritual law that David was under, but the principle remains the same under the gospel era — we need to meet God’s conditions of salvation if we wish to free ourselves of the grief of being lost in our sins (Romans 10:17, 9, 10; Acts 2:38).
  • Daniel was grieved by the implications of certain of his visions as they related to the future punishment of his people (Daniel 7:15).
  • Paul was grieved by the trouble that was being caused by the sayings of a demon-possessed woman (Acts 16:18).
  • Corrupt Jewish religious leaders were grieved by the gospel preaching that was done by the apostles (Acts 4:2).
  • The godless civil officials, Sanballat and Tobiah, were grieved that Nehemiah had come to restore Jerusalem “for the welfare of the children of Israel” (Nehemiah 2:10).
    [Note: Along with Jacob’s example in Genesis 37:35, these last two examples prove that emotions are not a safe guide. In these cases grief was the result of bias and misinformation. As I will more fully explain later in the article, this is what happens when grief becomes a pretext for blaming God for things that He did not and does not do.]
  • Parents are grieved by the foolish and rebellious behavior of their children (Proverbs 17:25).
  • Christians experience grief as a result of being persecuted (1 Peter 2:19). Of course, those suffering persecution must remind themselves of the great rewards of faith. Grief turns to joy when we remember that suffering for righteousness sake aligns us with Christ and with others who similarly suffered in His name (1 Peter 4:13, 14; Matthew 5:10-12).

Grief From The Loss Of Loved Ones

The Bible tells us that men are appointed once to die (Hebrews 9:27). Death is an unavoidable “event” that happens to people of all walks of life (Ecclesiastes 9:2). We are constantly reminded of this fact in our daily lives, whether from the news or obituaries or by our personal experiences and observations. Grief comes when one of these deaths was someone close to us — a mother or father, a grandparent, a spouse, a son or daughter or a close friend. The depth and degree of grief is directly related to the closeness of the relationship and thus the degree of personal loss.

Grief is a healthy human emotion. It helps us to empathize with others who have also experienced loss. Solomon said that it is in “the house of mourning” that “the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Death forces us to ponder the thing that we typically avoid thinking about — death. It is in “the house of mourning” that we contemplate the brevity and frailty of human life. It causes us to take both life and death more seriously.

Solomon also spoke about the healthful benefit of grieving when he said, “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). Psychology teaches us that grieving helps people to more quickly recover from the loss of loved ones. Visitations, funerals and subsequent gatherings of family and friends can be helpful in the grieving process. They provide opportunities for grieved people to give and receive emotional support. Interestingly, on such occasions one is likely to see expressions of deep sorrow mixed with expressions of great joy, even laughter. Though these two emotions are very different with regard to the particular feeling that they reflect, they are nonetheless both emotions. We must remind ourselves that different people have different ways of expressing and dealing with grief and we should be as understanding as possible.

Some Helpful Examples

John 11 records the death of Lazarus. After his death, family, friends and acquaintances traveled from Jerusalem to Bethany to “comfort” his sisters, Mary and Martha (v. 19). Jesus also traveled to Bethany and met with both Martha and Mary. He “comforted” Martha with words about the resurrection of the dead (vs. 23-26). Of course, Jesus had something more immediate in mind than what Martha inferred. He would soon raise Lazarus from the dead, long before the finalresurrection. He later met with Mary and “comforted” her (v. 31). We learn that truths from God’s word, visits from friends and expressions of emotional support can help others through their grief in such times of loss.

2 Samuel 11 and 12 tell the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba and against her husband Uriah. Chapter 11 ends with mention of David’s marriage to Bathsheba and of her pregnancy. Chapter 12 records Nathan’s rebuke of David, his subsequent repentance and God’s forgiveness of David. However, David’s sin would result in the physical consequence of the death of his newborn son. Though David had prayed earnestly that the child not die, it died on its 7th day. David did not become angry with God or grow bitter against Him. He did not blame God for the child’s death. Rather, we are told, “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate” (2 Samuel 12:20). He had wept and mourned and he knew that it was now time to move forward with his life in service to God and in service to others. His wife needed comforting and he provided that comfort to her (v. 24). She later became pregnant with Solomon. Interestingly, that Solomon was the one who would later pen the words, “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). People need to grieve their losses, but they also need to accept those losses at some point and do as David did. They need to move on with their lives.

Acts 9:36-42 tells of the death of Dorcas. Peter eventually raised her from the dead, but before that, we are told that the widows who had gathered there, “showed the coats and garments which Dorcas made while she was with them.” At this memorial service the deceased was acknowledged for her particular skills. People obviously took comfort in that memory of her. Their grief was consoled by being reminded of Dorcas’ good character, her industry, skills and accomplishments while she lived. We are no different today. I have seen this same practice at many funerals. Grievers are definitely comforted by this practice.

Why We Must Not Blame God For Death

Throughout the various miracle ages of the past, God has directly (miraculously) punished certain people with death. We think of Nadab and Abihu in the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:1-2) and Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts 5:1-11). Even in those cases the deaths were not God’s fault. The fault was with the people for engaging in death-worthy behavior. God could not be blamed for their deaths.

We today live in the gospel age. Miracles ended upon the confirmation (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:4) and final deliverance of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 13:8-10; Jude 3). God is not today miraculously intervening and interacting in people’s lives. God does not cause sociopaths to commit mass murders. God does not cause tsunamis, hurricanes and tornados that kill people. Natural disasters are the “natural” results of millennia-old weather patterns. As Solomon said, “time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Death sometimes happens as a result of one simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Those who die in car crashes die as the result of mechanical or human error (either theirs or of someone else). God does not make people drink and drive or text and drive. People who consume alcohol or other drugs and then operate motor vehicles increase their own chances of dying in a car.
  • God does not cause wheel bearings to go out or tires to blow out or deer to walk on highways in front of drivers.
  • God does not cause workplace accidents. People choose their occupations. It is a statistical fact that some jobs are more dangerous than others. For example, if one chooses to be a logger, farmer, airplane pilot or roofer he increases his risk of death.
  • God does not cause people to engage in risky behavior. People die from mountain climbing, auto racing, ATV riding and from hunting-related accidents. These deaths are the result of personal choices — not divine intervention.
  • God does not cause people to contract deadly viruses or cancer or heart disease. Humans became vulnerable to sickness and disease as a physical consequence of being cast out of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3). This subjected mankind to environmental forces that negatively affect the body. As a result of being in this environment, humans are subject DNA copying errors, cell damage and cell replication errors (resulting in cancer), deadly bacterial infections, diabetes, heart disease, viruses…etc. These are not God’s fault.


It is important that we deal with grief when it grips us. I have laid out Bible teaching and examples that show us some things that we can do that will help us through our grief. I have also shown that it is wrong and even sinful to blame God for someone’s death. Rather than blame God, we should actually thank God for the time that we did have with the one that we lost. We should thank Him our own lives and for the lives of our friends and family who remain. We should remind ourselves that we too will one day die and we should “number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). We should see ourselves as sojourners on this earth and we should “pass the time of our sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17).

—Tim Haile

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