Scripture often speaks of God as being grieved or experiencing grief. This holds true for each member of the Trinity. In Genesis 6:6-8 the Father is grieved because of the sinfulness of the human race. The disobedience of Israel and the church grieves the Holy Spirit ( Isa 63:10 ; Eph 4:30 ). The Son of God is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief ( Isa 53:3-10 ; Matt 23:37-39 ; Luke 13:34-35 ; John 11:35 ).
The Bible often expresses the things of God in human form or with human feelings in order to accommodate our limited understanding. Yet with regard to grief and grieving, the Scriptures are not simply explaining a divine action in human terms. Rather, the subject of divine grief addresses the very essence of God as a person and the image of God in all persons. The grief of God testifies to that dynamic, living relationship that exists between God and humankind. Right as Aristotle was in many ways, God is not an "Unmoved Mover."
God is grieved when his covenantal love is rebuffed by human disobedience and sin. His anguished response to sin is evidenced in two main ways: divine judgment and compassion for the sinner. Although antithetical in nature, these aspects of God's grief work together for salvation. Genesis 6:5-8 serves as a paradigm in this regard. The Hebrew root for "grieve, " nhm [;j"n], communicates a mixture of divine indignation against sin and a heartfelt anguish concerning the plight of his creation. Thus, in grief, God responds in judgment against sin, yet bestows saving grace and mercy on Noah and his family ( Gen 6:7-8 ). The end of the ordeal is marked by a reaffirmation of God's covenantal faithfulness to his entire creation ( Gen 8:21-22 ). So in grief God punishes, identifies with the moral plight of his creatures, and accomplishes his redemptive purposes.
This pattern occurs repeatedly in God's dealing with Israel. God was grieved when Israel rebelled and forgot his special covenantal favors ( Psalm 78:40-55 ; 95:10 ). They grieved his Holy Spirit, which led God to become the very opposite of what he wished to be. He ceased to be their loving Father and became their enemy ( Isa 63:10 ). Yet his chastening hand relents and ultimately brings restoration ( Psalm 106:45-46 ; Jer 26:19 ; Amos 7:3-6 ; Jonah 3:10 ).
The punitive and salvific aspects of God's grief coalesced in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sin grieved the goodness of God and assailed his holiness. In judgment he condemned the creation of his own hands. Yet in grief and through grief he redeemed the world by his Son ( John 3:16 ). Isaiah's messianic prophecy describes God's Anointed as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief ( Isa 53:3 ). Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, pleaded with Jerusalem, and agonized in the garden ( John 11:33 ; Matt 23:37-39 ; Luke 13:34-35 ; Matt 26:38 ; Mark 14:34 ; Luke 22:44 ). He learned obedience through suffering so that in all things he might be touched by the suffering of all people ( Heb 4:15 ; 5:7-8 ).
William A. Simmons
Bibliography. E. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God; V. P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17; K. Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God; L. J. Kuyper, SJT 22 (1969): 257-77; J. K. Mozley, The Impassibility of God; J. N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39; J. Ridderbos, Isaiah; G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15; C. Westermann, Isaiah 40-66.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Grief, Grieving'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".