What Ways Does the Bible Advise to Deal with Grief?
My heart crumples like a piece of paper crushed by the hands of a student who failed a test. Despite my vigilance and prayers, an unknown enemy penetrated the safe boundaries of our family. Now, a dear one bears the weight of those consequences. Behaviors that seemed out of place make sense. Unwise decisions have context.
While my loved one experiences perpetual pain, I deal with my grief.
What Does the Book of Job Tell Us about Dealing with Grief?
The Bible goes beyond telling us the way to salvation. It also presents examples of people like us who experienced grief. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Job.
Job’s incredible story of loss and restoration reveals a man who remained committed to the Lord despite horrific satanic attacks. Dealing with overwhelming grief after losing his possessions, children, and health, Job refused to malign God.
As Job mourned, Scripture reveals that three of his friends arrived to comfort him. Their attitudes and unwise counsel only inflicted pain on the suffering saint—with two exceptions.
1. Do sit in comforting silence.
“And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:12-13 NKJV)
Moved by the impact Job’s loss had on his appearance, his friends joined in the aching father’s pain through their presence. Words were unnecessary. If Job’s companions had left him after the traditional seven days of mourning, their reputations would remain intact.
Empathetic silence far outweighs blustery blame and self-righteous finger-pointing when friends, family, or others in our circles of influence wrangle with grief. Unfortunately, Job’s comforters refused to remain silent.
As a result, we learn several ways in which people should not support someone dealing with grief through their non-examples. These include the following:
2. Do not blame the victim. Can you imagine losing all nine of your children in a single day only to have a friend respond, “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed?” (Job 4:7 NLT)
Would these words comfort or encourage you? Eliphaz infers that Job’s children sinned and are at fault for their demise.
4. Do not blame the one who is grieving. Bildad and Zophar continued slinging arrows—both accused the childless, impoverished man of sin. In fact, they contended Job’s sin caused such divine wrath that God killed his children and reduced him to poverty.
“Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves.” (Job 11:6 NKJV)
5. Do not criticize. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar ceased their criticism of Job when they recognized he remained unconvinced that his sin served as the antecedent to calamity. In Job 42, God vindicates the patriarch and rebukes Job’s philosophical friends, “. . . the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7 NKJV, emphasis added).
While it is within appropriate and acceptable bounds to offer a kind word of support to a grieving colleague or another person we know casually, soliciting misinformed guidance may add a terrible weight to a suffering individual.
6. Do focus on truth. Indignant at the friends’ insufficient theology of suffering, young Elihu responded to the men’s discourse asserting God’s omniscience, justice, and mercy (Job 36:16). Unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, verbose Elihu understood that while people sometimes suffer as a result of sin, heartache often occurs outside of an offense.
Grace that corrects wrong theology proves comforting and faithful—even in painful circumstances.
While the book of Job reveals several unhealthy approaches toward grief, the Psalms offer a variety of prayers and petitions we can implement in our own lives and the lives of others. Let’s consider what the Psalms teach us about dealing with grief.
What Do the Psalms Teach about Dealing with Grief?
The first taste of sin led to lament, and these beautiful songs stand testimony to that heartache. With many of the sacred words penned as laments, the Psalms tutor us in managing suffering, loss, and death. How? Laments, for example, follow a pattern. As with Psalms 3, 17, 22, 32, 61, 88, and 109, each lament:
- addresses God.
- announces a complaint.
- aligns with trust in the Lord.
- acclaims and praises Him.
Psalms of Lament were written for individual and communal use. In addition, multiple musicians—Ethan, Asaph, Heman, and David--wrote these Psalms.
This information unveils several beautiful truths.
- We believers do “not grieve as indeed the rest of mankind” (1 Thes. 4:13 NASB). We experience pain as much as anyone yet, with lives surrendered to the King, our grief is given into His capable hands. Our hearts and minds hold to the hope of Christ—the one to whom we turn with the heaviest of our hurts and heart wounds.
- God does not expect us to give a social media smile while praying in His presence. Instead, He calls us to “walk humbly” (Micah 6:8 NKJV) as we invite Him into our needs.
- Sorrow does not preclude praise and thanksgiving. Praise sometimes bottlenecks when we deal with grief, yet Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV) exhorts, “…let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God.” When praise spills from the lips of those in pain, God honors those words as a sacrifice.
- Throughout the Psalms, we read the lines of those experiencing deep despair. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, men with human hurts penned petitions we can incorporate into our prayers.
The sacred songs of Scripture lift a broken heart, but the New Testament also speaks to the topic of grief.
What Do the Apostles Say about Dealing with Grief?
The apostle Paul wrote multiple Bible verses that address grief, comforting those whose loved ones have died or those encountering other types of significant loss.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13 (NIV) reads, “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.”
Paul shared that those who die before Christ’s return and know Jesus as Savior will—like our Savior—one day be bodily resurrected. As a result, death’s sting will be extinguished. Life reigns through Jesus.
Peter notes that the challenges of dealing with grief fade and even assume a different meaning when we remember what awaits us in eternity: “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4 NIV).
Other verses remind us of God’s care, concern, and constancy in our lives. Romans 8:31-39 affirms that we cannot be separated from God’s love. More than that, Christ “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5 NIV)
A few verses convey several key points.
- Grief is temporary.
- We have eternal hope and inheritance in Christ.
- Our heartache can be transformed for the good of others.
How Can We Help Someone Dealing with Grief?
When someone is dealing with grief, how can we be an encouragement?
One recent study found that most people long for emotional support.
Positive support entails:
- being present.
- listening without attempting to fix the mourner.
- talking about the loved one who died or listening to stories about that loved one.
- weekly check-ins.
- remembering important dates associated with the loved one (i.e., birthday, anniversary).
- helping with basic chores (i.e., lawn mowing, child care, providing meals).
Negative support involved:
- avoiding conversation about the loved one.
- judging the grief process.
- loss of friendship.
- not checking in.
- trying to fix the pain.
Grief touches all our lives. But as Christians, we cling to the hope of Jesus Christ. People who know the Way can be equipped through the word of God and the Holy Spirit to offer those who do not yet call on His name a glimpse beyond earthly pain into the storehouses of peace, comfort, and joy so that they, too, might receive the treasures within.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/laflor
Tammy Kennington is a writer and speaker familiar with the impact of trauma, chronic illness, and parenting in the hard places. Her heart is to lead women from hardship to hope. You can meet with Tammy at her blog www.tammykennington.com where she’ll send you her e-book, Moving from Pain to Peace-A Journey Toward Hope When the Past Holds You Captive.