Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Bible and Grief

This is a quick glance at the Jewish Old Testament (OT) and the Christian New Testament (NT) to see what they say about grief. It is by no means complete or definitive, and my study of these scriptures will continue.

I looked up several key words in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and the NRSV Harper Study Bible: grief (grieving, grieved, etc.), bereave (bereaved, bereavement, etc.) mourning, widow/widower, death.

I’m not going to make any definitive statements, other than to say that Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love others as he had loved them. Whenever religious rules got in the way of taking care of others, he broke them.
My concern for people who are suffering is pastoral, not theological. You know, compassion.

In the Beatitudes Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It does not, however, specify what this comfort would be.

In terms of understanding grief, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the OT and the NT. In general, the NT understanding borrows from the OT in that “godly grief” produces repentance, while “worldly grief” produces death (see 2 Cor. 7:10). Obviously this isn't the complete picture.

It helps to realize that people in the OT believed that they ceased to exist when they died. No heaven. Nothing. Zilch. End of their story. This understanding was evolving a bit in the NT because now there was a place to go when you died. Step One – people die. Step Two – people who die now go to heaven. Step Three – we really don’t get to Step Three in the NT. This would take the early Christian Church and beyond to figure this out, and the head people (theologians and lawyers) are still battling with the heart people over this. Step 3 is what we are to do with grievers.


Judaism hasn’t historically talked much about the afterlife, although this is changing, too. Judaism has put its 3000 years of energy into taking care of people in this world who are suffering. There is a whole basket of traditions and rites in Judaism to help grievers deal with their loss in the first week, the first month, after every worship service, and each year on the anniversary of death.

There is no “widower” listed in either Strongs or Harper’s. Apparently they didn’t exist. There were plenty of widows, however. In the OT, widows suffered mightily because women had few rights, couldn’t own land and probably didn't have jobs to support themselves, so they needed help from others in order to survive. In the NT, Jesus and others continued this concern about taking care of widows. In the early Christian Church, there was even a specific requirement to do so, which in Acts 6:1 wasn’t happening.

I didn’t find that grieving was addressed in the NT in the sense of focusing on how survivors of the dead should grieve. The focus was on rejoicing that our dead could now go to heaven, and this is where the discussion generally ends (see 1 Thess. 5:15). This was a new and exciting concept for that time, but my findings may be limited by the words I referenced.

I like the take of John Donne’s, the 13th century priest-poet, as well as the take of CS Lewis’s, the well respected 20th century Christian writer, that we rejoice over our loved ones being in heaven, but we grieve our loss on earth. They said it’s proper and necessary that Christians grieve and express their emotions.

Emotions are what make us different from the trees that raise their arms in praise and gratitude to the sun for its light. Feelings are what connect us to each other (and trees have more emotions than we give them credit for). Christians and Jews are called to be people of compassion.

I don't want to "prove" anything. I will say that Christians try to emulate Jesus in everything they do. When his friend, Lazarus died, Jesus wept. That's all we need to know.

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