If you’re looking for encouragement from Scripture for grief processing, you’re in the right place. I invited a friend from church to share the following post on how to deal with grief from a biblical perspective. I trust that it will be an encouragement to you.
A friend once shared that after losing her husband, she received much sympathy from family and friends, but soon she noticed a difference in the way people treated her. She said it seemed people were almost afraid to look her in the eye for fear that they’d see something of their own future in her.
Despite people’s best intentions, condolences, and kind words, this friend felt her grief became a wall separating her from others. Sadly, there is often a stigma that people attach to grief. Thankfully, we have Scripture to help us better understand grief and, rather than being swallowed up by it, move from grief to hope.
Scripture Gives Us a Definition of Grief
The main biblical term for grief (lupe) or grieve (lupeo) in the New Testament means to be swallowed up by sadness as a result of some event. Along with the translation ‘grief,’ it can also be rendered as ‘distress,’ ‘pain,’ or ‘sorrow.’
In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” So, on the one hand, sorrow and rejoicing are expressed as opposites; but on the other hand, Paul says they can live together, in the heart.
Scripture Points Out the Diversity of Our Grief
In the Bible, grief has many motivations. On the one hand, we can experience healthy grief at the loss of someone we love. For instance, Jesus noticed His disciples’ grief as He was predicting His violent death: “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow (lupe) has filled your heart” (John 16:6).
On the other hand, we can experience an unhealthy grief at the loss of idols we’re not willing to let go of. Recall, for example, the story of the rich young ruler. After Jesus told him to sell his possessions, he became “disheartened by the saying [and] he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22).
We may be surprised to find out the true motivations behind our grief; and the better we know the cause of our grief, the sooner we can progress from grief to hope.
Scripture Gives a Disclaimer for Our Grief
In a world tainted by sin, any emotion can become destructive. Grief, in particular, when unaccompanied by hope, can be harmful to the soul. What is hope? It is rooted in the resurrected Jesus.
We should grieve over our lost loved ones, but not without the hope of resurrection. For instance, Paul says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Without a seatbelt, a car can be dangerous. Likewise, without hope, grief can be deadly.
Without hope, grief can swallow you whole, blocking out all sense of hope, like thunderclouds eclipsing sun rays.
Most Importantly, Scripture Declares the Destiny of Our Grief
Scripture is beautiful, not merely as a rule book, but as a roadmap to the Man who has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:4).
Jesus changes the meaning and destiny of our grief. Because Jesus suffered in our flesh and became the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” our grief takes on a new meaning with power to escort us to hope (Isaiah 53:3).
How can this be?
Jesus has transformed believers’ grief into a vehicle toward hope, since the climax of Jesus’ grief became the turning point of the human story. Jesus’ grief culminated in an unthinkable judicial drama that wiped out the sin and eternal misery of his people.
Specifically, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10).
When we join Him by faith, Jesus takes our guilt, takes our sin, and takes our grief. The grave was not Jesus’ final destiny; He is risen and stands to secure eternal peace and salvation for those joined to Him by faith.
So also, our grief is not our final destiny, but a prelude to “praise and glory and honor” when we see Jesus.
This is the reality behind statements like Peter’s, for instance, where he says “now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith… may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Scripture is medicine, particularly to those experiencing grief. When we don’t understand grief from a biblical point of view, we can mishandle people like my friend by our cultural taboos or fears that keep us from looking at grief in the eye. Because of this we miss out on the fact that the man of sorrows, our grief-bearer, Jesus Christ, sanctifies our grief when we let Him shepherd us through it.
This article by no means represents an expert view on grief. I defer to my sisters and brothers in the professional counseling ministry for that level of insight. All I am really saying is that, when you’re suffering grief, there are better horizons to set your eyes on than people’s reactions toward you or popular ideas fueled by cultural taboos: you have the very promises of God in Scripture.
So, as we face our own or others’ grief, therefore, we should be careful to consider the question Jesus posed to the religious-minded of His day: “Have you never read?” (Mark 2:25)
Ian is a native of the Chicago area but now lives in West Michigan with his wife Mercy and their two children, Christian (2013) and Joanna (2016). He has written for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Going beyond what is written or learning to read? Discovering OT/NT broad reference” (61/3, 2018: 577–94) and has contributed to The Front Porch blog. He has an MDiv from Reformed Baptist Seminary (2018), an MA in Linguistics (Northeastern Illinois University, 2011), a BA in English (Elmhurst College, 2008), and is currently pursuing a PhD in Biblical Studies (Puritan Seminary, Grand Rapids). Ian’s vision is to develop a closer integration of church and academy, where men and women, here and abroad, equipped with a passion for robust theology, impact all levels of society, as Jesus’s disciples did, who said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?” (Luke 24:32).
For further reading on how to process grief as a believer,
I’d love to point you to two of my books:
Letters to Grief is a short little e-book I wrote as a description of what grief can be like for those who have experienced loss.
If you’ve known grief as a close companion, I hope it will be a blessing to you.
In my memoir, A Place to Land, I share a personal testimony
about how God has sustained me through the loss of my mom,
who passed away at age 59 from breast cancer.
If you’re dealing with grief of any kind, I pray that one or both of these books will be a help and an encouragement to you — but that ultimately, you will turn to the God of all comfort and His word as your sustaining grace.