Question: "What does the Bible say about grief?"
Answer: Grief is a deep and powerful emotion caused by the loss of someone or something we held dear. Grief is part of loving and engaging with life. Loss is bound to come in this fallen world, and grief with it. Grief is not an emotion to be avoided, but one to acknowledge and walk through.
Death is often the impetus for grief, but we can grieve over loss of any kind. That may include loss of a dream, loss of a relationship, loss of health, a pet’s death, or even the sale of a childhood home. Sometimes grief feels more private when it is related to things like infertility, miscarriage, abortion, betrayal by a spouse, or even our own sinfulness. The things over which we grieve may be hard to express to others, but often sharing our losses and allowing someone else to mourn with us is a path through the pain (Romans 12:15). The family of God is vital in our lives and a key means by which God ministers to us (and uses us to minister to others). Of course, the first place we should take our grief is directly to God, both in prayer and in studying His Word. God can use grief to help us know Him more, both as we receive His comfort and as our grief prompts us to more fully appreciate the gift of life and more deeply understand the reality of sin’s effects on our world. Grief can connect us to the heart of God.
Psalm 34:18 says that “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God understands our grief and offers to be with us and comfort us with promises from His Word and with the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:6–7). He also included examples in His Word of godly people who suffered grief. Peter felt grief when Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:17), and he grieved at the memory of how he had betrayed his best Friend (Luke 22:61–62). Paul was grieved over the unrepentant sin in the churches he loved (2 Corinthians 12:21). Jesus Himself was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3, NLT). Our Lord grieved over the hardness of people’s hearts in refusing to accept Him as the Son of God (Mark 3:5; Luke 19:41). As His crucifixion approached, Jesus was deeply grieved at the tremendous ordeal He had to face (Mark 14:33–36).
We can grieve the Holy Spirit by our actions and attitudes (Ephesians 4:30). When we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, sealed forever as a child of God, the Holy Spirit takes the initiative to transform us into godly people (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:29). But He does not make us robots. We still have the freedom to obey or disobey Him. When we act in carnal, fleshly ways, we grieve the Spirit who lives inside us.
Death is always a season of grief for those left behind. Even so, Paul writes that Christians do not grieve the death of a fellow believer in the same way that unbelievers grieve. First Thessalonians 4:13–14 says, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Paul reminds us to think of the death of a Christian as “sleep,” because it is a temporary state. Although we are sorrowful that we won’t share any more earthly experiences with our departed Christian loved ones, we can also look forward to an eternity with them.
Grief and hope can coexist. The hope we have in Christ helps us move forward through grief. Eternity for the believer will admit of no “death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4, NLT), as God Himself wipes away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17). The losses endured in this world are real, and they impact us in many ways, but we do not live in bitterness or gloom. We live “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised” (Titus 1:2). Our present experience will give way to the infinite goodness of God and our joy in His presence forevermore (see Psalm 16:11; 21:6).