To Grieve or not to Grieve?

Q: I thought that we were not to look behind us at what has happened but instead were to press on to what is ahead. I believed any emphasis on grieving and the idea that grieving could help us emotionally was just more of today’s touchy feely pop psychology and not the truth of God’s Word.

A: We believe grieving is essential to the healing process. There are thousands of studies that have been done on people who have or who have not grieved, which have led the entire medical profession to concur that grieving is essential for healing. I could also relate my own experience. When my dog was killed by a car, I grieved. It was natural and spontaneous. I cannot imagine what I would have had to do, or the person I would have had to have been, to not grieve. My dog was dead and the grief was irrepressible.

We grieve when we are emotionally connected to the loss, and the more connected we are, the more we grieve. This can be seen at any funeral. If a teenager is killed in a car accident, the immediate family of parents, brothers, and sisters grieve bitterly, friends cry and have a sick and empty feeling, distant relatives are quite sad, acquaintances are sorry the accident happened, and so forth. The intensity of the grieving is related to the degree of emotional connectedness.

Interestingly, as we become more Christ-like and connected to the heart of God we become more large-hearted toward people and may experience grief for people we do not even know. In my experience, truly Christ-like people even have grief to some extent when they read in the newspaper about a total stranger dying. This is why Scripture says that when one part of the Body suffers we all suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26). On a personal note, it was that very verse which really caused me to “wake up” about my own hard-heartedness toward other Christians. Often I would see a brother or sister in the Lord having trouble, and instead of hurting for them, I congratulated myself on my personal faith and strength of character (was I ever out of touch!).

Since the more emotionally connected we are to people the more we grieve if they encounter tragic circumstances, we can see why grief is healthy and godly. God wants us to be emotionally connected to people and to love them. What kind of person does not grieve about the tragedies of life? Ebenezer Scrooge is famous for his lack of feeling toward others, and when confronted with the possibility of people dying of starvation, he commented that their death would “reduce the surplus population.” Scrooge is a caricature, but the fact that the vast majority of the people who watch A Christmas Carol applaud his change of heart at the end of the story shows that people commonly recognize that there is something fundamentally wrong with hard-hearted selfishness.

Since grieving seems to spontaneously flow out of the core of the human heart, there should be something in the Bible about it, and there is. Before going to chapter and verse, however, it is important to understand some principles about what is and what is not covered in the Bible and how to properly use the Bible to attain knowledge and godliness. There are people who foolishly state that if something is not in the Bible then it cannot be godly. That is certainly not the case. It is a general principle of Bible interpretation that when something is spontaneous and important to human life, the Word does not command us to do it. Rather, the principle we need to know to properly understand the Bible is that if something we do flows out of our human life or nature (not sin nature) we go ahead and do it unless the Word specifically says not to. For example, there is no chapter and verse that tells us to chew our food, dress warmly when it is cold, or take time to cleanse the dirt out of a cut or scrape if we fall on the ground and hurt ourselves. These things are “natural” and need no comment from God. When something seems to flow out of our human life or nature that is not good or can get out of control, God warns us about it. For example, it is a natural tendency to want to improve our lives, and that is godly. However that desire can get out of control or become ungodly. Our desire to improve our lot in life can come at the expense of someone else, so although there may be no verse about chewing our food, there is a verse that says not to covet our neighbor’s wife, animals, house, etc. It is fine to try to improve our lives, but not at the expense of others.

Just as God does not have to command us to eat when we are hungry, God does not command us to feel in certain ways in certain circumstances. God is emotional, and He created us in His image as emotional beings. God’s emotions are portrayed many times in the Bible. He may be angry, grieved, jealous, etc., depending on the situation. Since He created us, He knows that we all respond to certain things in the same way. We humans are naturally “happy” if someone gives us a present, and so there is no “chapter and verse” that says, “feel happy if someone gives you a present.” It is a standard human emotion and needs no command from God. Our human feelings are many and varied and include a warm, glowing feeling at seeing puppies, anger when someone steals from us, frustration when we are telling the truth but the one we are speaking to does not believe us, etc. These feelings are spontaneous and godly and God does not command them. Similarly, there is no command saying, “Feel badly when someone close to you dies or when some tragedy occurs.” We feel badly naturally. That feeling is grief, and the process we go through while we are adjusting to the way life will be without our loved one and after the tragedy is grieving.

God knows that feelings of grief are healthy and important. God Himself feels grief on occasion (Gen. 6:6, 1 Sam. 15:11, etc.). The grief that we feel when someone dies is called mourning, although grief is mentioned in other circumstances in the Bible as well. “Mourn and mourning” are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible. God says there is a time for mourning (Eccles. 3:4). The first mention is in the life of Abraham when he grieved at the loss of Sarah. The Israelites officially grieved for 30 days when Moses died (Deut. 34:8). Ecclesiastes says “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” (Eccles. 7:4), surely not something that God would say if grieving were ungodly. Christ said that those who mourn now would be blessed in the next life (Matt. 5:4). He also told his disciples that they would grieve when he died. The Lord reproved the Corinthian church for not mourning about the evil that was done in their midst (1 Cor. 5:2). However, because of Paul’s reproof, they did become sorry and mourn, which was a good thing (2 Cor. 7:7 and 8). James told the ungodly people to mourn and weep. These are a few examples from the Word about grief and morning, and there is more on grief, sadness, mourning and sorrow in the Bible that could be studied.

It is also important to realize that there is no case in Scripture where anyone mourning is told that it is unhealthy, ungodly, or inappropriate to mourn over loss. The fact that God Himself feels grief on occasion, and since there is grief and mourning from Genesis to Revelation with no mention of anyone trying to stop it or stuff it, is good evidence that in certain situations it is appropriate.

In conclusion, then, grief arises spontaneously out of the heart when tragedy happens to someone or something that we have an emotional connection to. The grieving process is an adjustment process that we go through as we deal with loss and all the associated feelings such as anger, frustration, and hurt, and as we deal with the new realities that we will be facing in life, such as living without a spouse or child. We grieve because we are emotionally connected, and to deny, cut off or try to “stuff” the grieving process is to deny that it is okay to hurt and need time to heal. Grief naturally lessens with time, because God made humans capable of adjusting to changing circumstances and to move on with life.

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