What does the Bible say about grief?

A sad, crying woman standing at a window with raindrops on it.

Few things can dry up one’s happiness and health than experiencing loss. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, an unexpected illness, or losing a job, grief can bring another level of sorrow to our minds.

Questions often arise in these situations. Why did this have to happen? Is there any hope for me now? Is there anything to hold on to when it seems like everyone has left me? Where was God when I was hurting?

Grief is a lonely feeling, and it can sometimes make us feel like our own reasons for living fall flat. 

Yet we find in Scripture that there is light in the darkness. Although this ordeal can be crippling at times, the Bible sheds light on the hope offered for those struggling with a heavy heart.  

Using the Bible as our guide, we’ll look more closely at: 

  • What it really means to grieve
  • Finding hope in the midst of the grieving process
  • More hope offered in Christ!
  • How people grieved in the Bible, and how God responded 
  • Bible promises we can claim while grieving
  • The antidote for grief—our hope for the future through Jesus 

What the Bible says about grief can give us a calm assurance and peace in the power of the Almighty God. It reveals a knowledge of the tender love and compassion that Christ has for each of His hurting children. So let’s see what we find.

What does it mean to grieve? And why do we mourn a loss?

Time of Loss
Time of Loss

Loss, broken relationships and a hurting heart all come from the entrance of sin into this world. Moreover, the Bible tells us that because of sin, death entered into the world (Romans 5:12).  

Were sin and death God’s original intent for His creation? The answer is a huge NO. It wasn’t. In fact, there’s actually a Bible verse which tells us that Jesus’ intent was an abundant life!

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NASB). 

The “thief,” commonly known as Satan, is the one behind all the pain and spoiled happiness of our planet. He is the one responsible for death becoming a reality, and for the pangs of grief that have stolen the joy of living from many souls. 

When God created us, He intended that we should live abundant lives. Why? Because the foundation of His character is love, so He always acts out of love (1 John 4:8). 

But for us humans to live abundant lives, God gave us a free will. This means that rather than being robotic, He gave us the gift of choice.

And this freedom to choose came with a risk. The risk of rebellion and disobedience. The first to rebel was Lucifer/Satan, and through his fall, sin and woe entered into the universe. 

That is why Christ came into the world. His mission was to relieve those who were in pain as a result of sin and death. And to restore His creation back to the life He desired for them to experience, right at the beginning when He created us. 

A sad man standing in shadows.

So, what is grief? 

It is a state of sadness and deep mental suffering for the consequences and results of sin.

And why do we mourn losses? 

We mourn and react to loss because it’s something that we were never created to experience. We know deep in our hearts that losing people to death is wrong. It’s not supposed to be this way.

Things like the loss of your son or your family member’s positive test results to cancer were never a part of God’s plan. 

The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:8 (NKJV) that, “God is love.” And that humanity was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). 

The point here is that the original plan of God’s creation was for us to give and receive love. In light of this, it makes complete sense why we mourn a loss. It’s the feeling that comes when the things we value and love are taken away—and at times, unjustly taken away. It’s this experience that leaves one empty. Moreover, it breaks the heart of God. 

We see this clearly in the Gospel of John chapter 11 when Lazarus died. The Bible says, “Jesus wept” when He got to Lazarus’ funeral. That’s the Creator of the universe… weeping. 

Renowned Adventist author Ellen White comments on this:

“Though He [Jesus] was the Son of God, yet He had taken human nature upon Him, and He was moved by human sorrow. His tender, pitying heart is ever awakened to sympathy by suffering. He weeps with those that weep, and rejoices with those that rejoice” (Desire of Ages, p. 533). 

The God of the universe is a God who is ever so “…near to the brokenhearted” and One who “…saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). 

What an astounding picture of hope and a revelation of God’s goodness!

A man standing by the ocean looking out.

There is hope in the midst of the grieving process

The process of mourning and grieving the death of a loved one can be categorized into five general sections. Some people may experience all five, while others may only go through some of them. They include:  

  • Denial: A reaction of shock that one has when experiencing and feeling loss. A common response in this phase might sound something like, “This isn’t happening!” or “This can’t be happening!”
  • Anger: Here, the emotions kick in and a wave of heartache can flood you. It’s usually at this phase the “why” questions arise. Often, unlawful emotions can be directed at anyone in the situation, some of whom may not even be at fault. 
  • Bargaining: This is a phase of regret. For example, in the case of death, one may reason that, “If only we had gotten the tests earlier, she would still be here.” Or, in the case of job loss, “If only I had worked more overtime, they would’ve seen my value.” You may try to bargain that if something happened earlier, everything would have been okay. This often leads to being upset with yourself/others and triggers the next phase.
  • Depression: In this stage, many people isolate themselves. They may need time to process everything that has happened. Emotions catch up with them and they might feel heavy and muddled. This stage could last only a couple days or years. 
  • Acceptance: In this stage, you come to a place where you have accepted what has happened in your life. This doesn’t mean the pain will go away or you will be completely free from “tough days.” But you have acknowledged the reality of the situation.

These five stages of grief are common for the majority of those who have experienced loss in their life. And God provides a healthy way to navigate these stages in the Bible. There are promises of hope and strength that can help you carry on when you feel like you’re at the end of the road. 

In these stages of grief, scripture reminds us of the beautiful truth that we are not alone. That Jesus understands what we are going through (Hebrews 2:14-16). And that He isn’t an impersonal God watching us from a distance. 

A friend comforting her grieving friend.

The heart of God is grief-stricken as He sees the struggles of those who experience loss. His heart is moved with compassion by our sorrow (Hebrews 4:14,15). And we can be sure that He is present with His children who are experiencing any kind of loss (Psalm 34:18). So in the midst of grief, we shouldn’t wonder where God is, because He promises to always be right there with us.

Your previous/current situation may be overwhelming, but how relieving to know that God is in it with you. He is not indifferent to your pain, He understands the way you’re feeling. Furthermore, God can use you to comfort others in future with the same kind of comfort you received from Him in this time of grief (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

God’s comfort is such that He will never allow anything to come your way that is too much for you to handle. He always provides a way of recovery (1 Corinthians 10:13). And one of His favorite ways to help us get through grief is by encouraging us to comfort others. 

Another thing to remember is that God has a plan for you in the midst of intense grief and pain (Jeremiah 29:11). He loves you, and promises to bring you healing. And if you will trust Him, He will also give you grace to rebuild your life again (Jer 31:3,4). 

God is ready to comfort you, to be there for you, and to hold your hand through the times even if no one else will. But before He can do all these things, He asks for your permission. God will never force His way into your heart.

You may be bearing a lot of burdens. Maybe you are weary and feeling like you can’t move forward. Christ’s invitation is, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NASB).

The sun shining through trees.

More hope offered in Christ!

In describing the goal of His ministry, Jesus quoted this text found in the Old Testament:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; 

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; 

To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3, NKJV, emphasis added).

In His work of saving and redeeming mankind from the consequences of sin, Christ included also the work of comforting those in grief (Isaiah 61:1-3). Be encouraged, there is comfort in God! 

As you dwell upon the verse above, think upon some of the words written in bold. This is the work of God. He is ready and willing to work in your life now through His Spirit to heal, comfort and console.

This shows us again that Jesus came to restore His people to live the abundant life (John 10:10). 

Furthermore, Christ’s ministry of healing on earth didn’t finish when He ascended to heaven. Instead, He promised that He will never leave nor forsake His children (Hebrews 13:5). His presence will always be with us through the Holy Spirit.

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 14:7, NASB).

In Greek, the word “helper” means “comforter.” When Jesus ascended into heaven He sent the comforter, the Holy Spirit, to continue His work on earth. 

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises to give us peace (John 14:26, 27; Eph 2:14). And it is through the Holy Spirit that we can experience the presence of God in our lives. 

So, why is that such good news? 

Because the Bible tells us you can discover the much-needed joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11). And God keeps us in perfect peace when we focus our minds on Him (Isaiah 26:3). And it is through the Holy Spirit, we can live constantly in the presence of God and let our minds dwell on Him.

Therefore, you can be assured that God will be with you through the storms that life may bring your way. He promises to walk with you through the pain of loss and grief. And He promises to give you the peace that surpasses all human understanding (Philippians 4:7).  

Let’s take a look at some people who experienced God’s comfort during difficult times.

The Bible open to the book of Job with flowers on it.

How did people grieve in the Bible? How did God respond?

Job

One of the most famous experiences of grief in the Bible, is the experience of a man named Job. Job was a faithful follower of God who had a daily relationship with Him. 

One day, Satan came to God and told Him that Job only served God because of all the blessings that He had given him. So God allowed for Job to be tested. 

This test was meant to show whether his faith was based on what God had given him, or on who God is—a relational God of love. 

So God allowed Satan to remove everything He had given Job, except his life (Job 1). 

And in a matter of seconds, Job lost his donkeys, oxen, sheep, camels, servants, and even his children. 

It’s hard to imagine how that must have felt. 

And how did he respond?

He stood up, tore his garments, and shaved his head. These were ways of expressing deep grief and mourning in his culture. 

Then He does something else. He falls to the ground and worships God saying: 

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

And naked shall I return there.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;

Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

And we’re told that “in all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:21,22 NKJV).

Interesting, isn’t it? 

Job had such a walk with his Creator that he knew whatever God would choose to do with His life, it would ultimately work out for good.

Over the course of his experience, his close friends distanced themselves from him (Job 19:14,15). Even his wife exclaimed at one point, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9, NASB)! 

Unfortunately, this is a familiar experience for many even today. You yourself may have gone through a time of loss where the people closest to you seemed to be the most distant. Others could even have turned against you. 

And like Job, you may have wondered why God was silent, too (Job 30:20). 

At this time, Job had many questions. To him, It didn’t make sense why everything happened the way it did. He must have asked where God was when he needed Him?

But then, God breaks the silence in Job 38-42. He asks Job questions for which he has no answers. Questions which even scholars can’t claim to understand. God reveals Himself as the infinite God. The One who knows the end from the beginning. 

A man reading the Bible.

Something to note is that God isn’t angry when we have questions. He’s a reasonable God. 

In fact, He loves it when we want to discuss things and talk them over with Him. When we want to connect with our Creator.

That is why He says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, NKJV). 

He’s okay with questions, but ultimately we need to know that He is the One in control. He is working for the salvation of all who will trust in Him, and He has your best interest at heart.  

God’s existence, His character, His law, and His plans are inestimable. Yet, He desires to patiently instruct us to exercise faith in Him. To trust our case to the gentle, omnipotent hands of God. He gives enough evidence of His goodness to us, His earthly children, that we may have faith in Him. 

The one question that He asks all of us is, “Will you trust Me even when life takes an unexpected turn?” 

From Job’s experience, we learn  God sees everything that happens. From life’s biggest crisis to the seemingly unnoticed teardrop, God sees it all, and He hears the cry of our hearts. 

No matter what situation comes our way, God promises to ultimately turn around each and every one of them, and make it all “work together for the good of those that love God” (Romans 8:28). 

Though God allowed tough times to come Job’s way, it was not God’s original intent. We must always remember that we are part of a great controversy. We live in a world where we know both “good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, 22), because of the choice humanity made.

But Satan is the one seeking to destroy and bring pain to all of us. And his efforts to twist and corrupt our world can feel overwhelming at times. He is hate-filled and sinister, and will happily play with your emotions. Then he will try to convince all that the deep sorrow, pain, and grief in the world comes from God. 

As you can see, this controversy is over the character of God. In many ways, we can all relate to Job. And we can also strive to respond as Job did, always seeking comfort through the Lord, trusting His goodness, and holding on to His gentle hand even during the most devastating trials. 

Silhouettes of a man and a woman looking at the cross.

Jesus

Another prime example of grief is Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible calls Him a “man of sorrows” and one who was/is “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

In His life, Jesus came into close contact with those who had experienced loss, pain, grief, and the pangs of death. He always had compassion on those who were hurting and sought to bring them relief. 

Yet He Himself experienced great depths of grief greater than what any of His followers or those He ministered to could ever experience. 

The reason Jesus was crucified on the cross was so He could bear our sins (1 Peter 2:24). The very hand of our Creator was nailed to the cross for us. For those He lovingly made and gave life to.

And He endured the most dreadful pain of complete separation from God on our behalf. 

Those who condemned Him mocked Him, spat on Him, bruised, whipped, and treated Him as a slave. All while He was dying for them. He went through all this so that every single one of us could have the chance to be reconciled with God and receive eternal life. 

Sobering, isn’t it?

Then His disciples left Him (Mark 14:50). His own people deserted Him (John 1:11).

But still, He took on Himself the sin of all humanity—whether or not they would accept His gift of salvation for their lives (Isaiah 53:6). 

When Christ was on the cross He cried out under the weight of sin, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46 NKJV)?

Jesus’ experience was intense.

He was bearing the sins of the world, forsaken by His people, and crying out to God because He could no longer sense His Father’s presence.

And yet, through all this, He still kept His focus on others. He even prayed for those who crucified Him saying, “Father forgive them” (Luke 23:34). 

Again, in excruciating pain, He asked His beloved John to take care of His mother (John 19:25-27). Another act of selfless love.

We’re told that, “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV)

Christ went through all this for others, not Himself. It was because of the love of God, and His desire to redeem fallen humanity that Jesus died.

God loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). And He revealed this in a tangible way through Christ’s experience of grief and sorrow on the cross.

A heart on a beach.

“I love you” is a special phrase we like to hear between two people. But how much more beautiful and profound is it when said by God Himself to you and me?

In the agony of the crucifixion, when Christ was forsaken for the sin He bore, the heart of the Father was wrenched. The sun did not shine it’s light, so there was darkness over the land (Luke 23:44,45). What pain God must have experienced in witnessing the death of His Son!

Yet, it was in that pitch-black darkness, with Jesus hanging on the cross, that He was to redeem “us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ )” (Galatians 3:13, NKJV). 

It is this seemingly hopeless situation of Christ’s death that leads to the time when pain, suffering, loss, sin, death and tears will all flee away (Revelation 21:4).

Thus, Scripture bids us to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV).

There are three lessons to learn from Christ’s experience of grief:

  • Christ understands our pain. In fact, He experienced pain to a much greater extent than we could ever imagine.
  • Christ found comfort in the midst of grief and sorrow by seeking to relieve others pain.
  • God’s heart breaks when He sees the grief of His earthly children. Yet, it is His desire to make “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28 NKJV).

Let’s direct our attention to a famous psalm that drives this point home. 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”  (Psalm 23:4 NKJV).

Christ is our shepherd, and He is leading us through the valley of the shadow of death. At times the path may seem dark and obscure. But with Him as our leader, there is grace for the journey, and hope for greener pastures at the end of the road.

What are some Bible promises I can claim as I grieve?

Here are more promises from God’s word that you can claim in prayer. Tell God about your experience. Tell Him of your pain and grief; claim these promises and trust that God will bring them to pass. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NKJV).

“My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26, NASB)

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this’” (John 11:25,26, NKJV)?

“The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18, NKJV)

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NKJV)

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NASB)

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB)

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NKJV)

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27, NKJV)

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41: 10, NKJV)

A smiling woman with the sun setting behind her.

The antidote for grief—our hope for the future through Jesus

One important thing that Jesus desires for us to always remember is He has the keys to the grave (Revelation 1:17, 18). His death on the cross defeated Satan and ultimately conquered death itself (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). 

The truth is that this world has been spoiled by sin. And though Satan is destined for defeat, there is still a very real battle going on for the salvation of our souls.

Satan knows that his time is short. He knows that Jesus will return soon to take us home and  it will be all over for him. 

And so, for the time that we still have on earth, God wants you to, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2 NKJV). 

We are to keep looking forward. Because there is hope beyond our present situations! 

The Bible points us forward to a time of hope. A time when, “…God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, NKJV). 

How uplifting! Especially for any of us who may be grieving, this verse can be such a source of joy! 

God knows the struggles you may be experiencing right now. He knows about the pain you have experienced in your life. And through the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit, He holds out His hand and asks you to walk with Him. Trust in Him as your Shepherd to lead you through the valley of the shadow of death to greener pastures (Psalm 23). 

Look to Christ, and daily surrender your struggles to Him. 

Jesus willingly went through the cross and deep grief for each of us. Why? Because He knew the joy of seeing humanity and the earth eternally redeemed from sin lay on the other side of His trial (Hebrews 12:2 NASB). 

It was the thought of being with you and your loved ones for eternity that gave Him joy  amid the pain. And as we hold on to God’s promises in difficult times, may our thoughts be on Christ who is the joy of our salvation. 

May we also seek to bring relief to others with the comfort that we have received from God, just like Jesus did. 

And soon, He will come again and take us home. He’ll take us away from this world of sin and suffering. 

Hallelujah, that‘s our blessed hope! 

Learn more about God’s promises and His plan for humanity.