Emotional Pain * Grief * Loss * Tragedy * Inner Pain * Death * Sorrow

Real Christians Grieve

When Bereavement Counseling Meets the Bible

Help, Comfort and Healing


By Grantley Morris

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Did Jesus really say, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4)?

Without ever intending to, vast numbers of caring, Bible-loving Christians have slipped from the Bible’s view of grief. They suppose they should be more lion-hearted than David the giant-killer, the man after God’s own heart who, upon finding Ziklag burnt and his family taken captive, wept aloud until there was no strength left in him, before heroically seizing back from the enemy everything that had been stolen (1 Samuel 30:3-19). There are Christians who think they should be less human than Jesus, who often wept, and more spiritual than the Spirit-filled early church. See how the power-packed early church reacted to the death of its first martyr:

    Acts 8:2 Devout men buried Stephen, and lamented greatly over him.

In contrast to the New Testament’s directive to “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), many well-meaning Christians think the truly Christian thing to do is to gently chide mourning Christians for not rejoicing. The great apostle Paul, whose references to joy and rejoicing have inspired modern day super saints to think it spiritual to act like robots, spoke often of the tears he shed in his labors for the Lord (Scriptures). What an embarrassment he is to those of us who sincerely think we are following his lead by never showing sorrow.

The other major source of inspiration is for praisers, of course, the Psalms that are filled with praise and rejoicing but also filled with strong laments and complaints (e.g. Psalms 6; 10; 12, 13; 38; 51; 55; 60; 70; 74; 79; 80; 83; 88; 123; 137). The Bible has only one hymn book, yet even many of the psalms that end in praise only get there after working their way through grief. Although each completed psalm can be read quickly, it summarizes a real-life emotional journey that surely took considerably longer.

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To suppress grief is suppressing not just part of our humanity but a part of us that is in the image of God. Rocks and robots don’t cry. Jesus did. The one in whom “all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9) wept – often.

    Isaiah 53:3 He was  . . . a man of suffering . . .

    Matthew 26:37-38  . . . and began to be sorrowful and severely troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. . . .”

    Luke 19:41 When he came near, he saw the city and wept over it

    John 11:33-36 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. The Jews therefore said, “See how much affection he had for him!”

    Hebrews 5:7 He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears . . .

Christ came to show us the heart of the Father, but even before then, God revealed himself as one who grieves.

    Genesis 6:6 The Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.

    2 Samuel 24:16 When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough. Now withdraw your hand.” The Lord’s angel was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

    Isaiah 63:10 But they rebelled, and grieved his holy Spirit. . . .

Before the Son of God shed tears, the Almighty’s highest revelation of himself was through the prophets and by them he revealed himself over and over as being emotional.

    1 Samuel 15:35 Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death; for Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.

We repeatedly find this same convergence of God’s emotions with those of his prophets. Here’s a few examples:

    Isaiah 16:9, 11, 13 Therefore I will weep . . . I will water you with my tears . . . Therefore my heart sounds like a harp for Moab, and my inward parts for Kir Heres. . . . This is the word that the Lord spoke concerning Moab in time past.

    Isaiah 22:4 Therefore I said, “Look away from me. I will weep bitterly. . . .”

    Jeremiah 8:21 For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt: I mourn; dismay has taken hold on me.

    Jeremiah 9:1 Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a spring of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

    Jeremiah 9:10 For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the pastures of the wilderness a lamentation . . .

    Jeremiah 13:17 But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and my eye shall weep bitterly, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock is taken captive.

    Jeremiah 48:30-32 I know his wrath, says the Lord, that it is nothing; his boastings have worked nothing. Therefore will I wail for Moab; yes, I will cry out for all Moab: for the men of Kir Heres shall they mourn. With more than the weeping of Jazer will I weep for you, vine of Sibmah . . .

A few more Scriptures

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There are those who pride themselves in a form of Christianity devoid of emotion. We truly must love the Lord with our mind and walk by faith, not feelings. However, the greatest commandment is to love God with all our mind and our emotions (heart/soul). Then there are Christians who think themselves more biblical by allowing emotions, but it seems they unconsciously go through their Bibles with a black pen, blocking out the vast number of references to displaying “negative” emotions. The only emotion they allow is joy.

Praise and rejoicing are, of course, highly biblical, essential ingredients in emotional healing, but the same is true for expressing grief. The Bible’s full teaching is that bereaved Christians should grieve, but not as those who have no hope.

    1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you don’t grieve like the rest, who have no hope.

Hope lessens grief, but it does not eliminate it.

Here’s how the elders – not the less spiritual ones, but the elders – of the Ephesian church reacted when Paul left them:

    Acts 20:37-38 They all wept a lot . . . because of the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. . . .

It is both natural and biblical to grieve the departure of loved ones. The reality is that no matter how happy those who have gone are, and how much they gain by the move, we suffer the loss, and to try to live in denial of this reality is not heroic but caving in to social or religious pressure that is not of God.

Ironically, those who refuse to mourn often take much longer to heal, just as someone ignoring a physical wound, acting as if it had never happened, is likely to end up with an infected wound that takes much longer to heal. Those who refuse to grieve – refuse to admit to themselves the extent of their loss and to express that loss – can end up hobbling through life without ever healing. To be authentic Christians is to display the full gamut of God-given emotions.

Passionately in love with their Lord, Paul and the other apostles longed to share in the sufferings of Christ. Since no one loves as deeply as God does, no one grieves as deeply as God as he contemplates this hurting world and lost humanity who curse and reject the God who longs to save them. To experience heart-ripping grief is to enter into a unique understanding of the heart of God.

We shrink from tears like a cat from water, but as the old Arab proverb observes, “All sunshine doth a desert make.” In the words of Scripture, there is “a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Life has its seasons and the dark rainy days that no one wants are essential for fruitfulness. God will turn your “mourning into dancing” (Psalms 30:11) but for that to happen you must mourn.

There is much evidence that those who confront their inner pain head-on, heal quickest. Inner pain will gradually retreat when we face it, but it will keep haunting us if we run from it.

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To live in denial grieves the Spirit of truth. The healing Lord is a God of truth and he ministers in an environment of truth. Have you noticed in the gospels how, before healing them, Jesus often asked sick people what they wanted? As much as Jesus wanted to heal them, their healing hinged on them admitting that they were sick and needed healing. Had they said, “I’m fine,” they would have missed their healing. This principle applies to emotional healing as well as physical healing.

Louise wrote to me saying how she had delayed her healing for so many years by suppressing inner pain rather than facing it and grieving it. I asked this creative woman if she could write a poem about this topic and here is her response:

    “He who sows in tears, will reap with a joyful cry”

    I’ve tried to trust in the God of truth
    While clinging to the lies of youth
    I’ve tried to learn the truth myself
    And put his grace upon the shelf
    I’ve listened to those who madly say
    “Do not cry, but to him pray”
    But for the baptism giving life
    The water of tears of grieving strife
    Are necessary. He collects and keeps
    Every tear an agonized sad soul weeps
    To pour out, melting pillar of salt
    Resurrection being the final result
    And tenderly, as I seek rightly
    Humbly in my difficulty
    He’ll touch and bring me joy and peace
    And promise life that will not cease.

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I long for us not to add to people’s burdens by implying that a stiff upper lip is a spiritual duty, or is even helpful. I would be horrified, however, if anyone responded to this webpage by going to the other extreme of looking down on those who find themselves too inhibited to openly grieve. Our emotional response to crises is largely concreted into us during our formative years. Freeing ourselves up in later years is exceedingly difficult and takes more than mere willpower. Those who clam up emotionally suffer enough without anyone compounding it by being critical of their dilemma.

Particularly men from some cultural backgrounds, such as Anglo-Saxon, often feel duty-bound to go to emotionally unhealthy extremes in suppressing their feelings – with the possible exception of anger – when in physical or emotional distress. For every human, our sexual identity is an enormous part of who we are. From birth to death we are stuck with our gender and to feel that we have failed to live up what is expected of our gender is one of the most devastating things we can suffer. Moreover, I’ve discovered that most of us Christians have a subconscious bias towards claiming biblical justification for our hang-ups.

Like so many men, I grew up believing that a man shedding a tear is at least as shamefully abnormal as a woman growing a beard. Real men never cry. On the other hand, I believed Jesus was the perfect man. Eventually one of those beliefs had to go. Nevertheless, the power of one’s formative years is such that despite what my mind might tell me, it is hard to feel inwardly convinced.

Grieving, however, does not necessarily mean crying. It involves acknowledging to oneself the magnitude of one’s loss. Unfortunately, the pressure many men feel never to cry prevents them from even thinking about their loss, lest the mere thought produce tears.

At first guess, one would suppose that the shared grief over the death of a child would bring a husband and wife closer together. Sadly, the opposite usually applies. A major reason for this is that it is normal for people to react to grief in very different ways. Some, for instance, will try to offload pain by talking incessantly about it, whereas others feel they can cope only by never mentioning it. Put a representative from each group together in marriage and one partner will see the other as a continual depressive influence, like a dead weight on someone barely able to keep afloat, while the other partner thinks he/she is married to someone oppressively cold and distant. The tragedy is that each responds to emotional pain in a way that inflames the other’s pain. This calls for great love, understanding and perseverance. Keep pouring out your heart to God, however, and the trial will be shortened.

Grief is a part of the victorious Christian life. It is a place we visit but we don’t have to live there. It is not biblical to live in denial or try to sidestep grief, but neither is it biblical to sidestep praise, nor to make grief our home, rather than just a place we pass through. No matter how bad things have been, our loving Lord has good planned for us and wants us to live in hope. For encouragement, see Finding Hope When There is No Hope.

For insight into just how common the shedding of tears is in the Bible, I invite you to glance at the Scriptures listed in Men Crying in the Bible. To see all these Scriptures together is quite impacting.

If you have suffered the loss of an infant through abortion, miscarriage or early death, I suggest reading Is My Baby in Heaven?

For further help and comfort with your grief, read Basking In Infinite Love and then keep following the first link at the end of each article.

For help in wrestling with why we live in a world where tragedies occur, see God and Suffering.

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Related Pages

When Grief is Tinged with Guilt

Healing Emotions: Christian Masculinity & Shedding Tears A biblical exploration of the role of crying in masculinity and healing of the emotions.

Christians & Raw Emotions: Hate & Anger at Injustice

The Surprising Joy of Trials

Find Peace in the Storm Even for the most godly of us, peace can be elusive

Basking In Infinite Love Further help and comfort with your grief. Keep following the first link at the end of each article.

Christian Carer’s Guide How to Comfort Hurting People.

Is My Baby in Heaven? Comfort when grieving the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth or the death of an infant.

God and Suffering Help in wrestling with why we live in a world where tragedies occur.

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2007, 2014 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.

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