What does the Bible say about grief and sorrow?

Last updated on August 30, 2023

When God had created the world, including the plants, animals and humans, He concluded that everything was very good. His creation was perfect. It knew no suffering or death. But this ideal situation did not last. Adam and Eve, the first humans, disobeyed God’s prohibition to eat from one particular tree. The consequences of their sin were enormous, and are still visible today. As God had warned Adam and Eve before, their disobedience led to death. Not only for them personally, but also for their offspring and for all creation. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Mourning is normal and natural

It is good to grieve when a loved one dies, because death is terrible. The Bible calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). In the Bible we find many examples of people who mourned the loss of a loved one. I will mention only a few here:

  • Abraham mourned for his wife Sarah and wept at her deathbed (Genesis 23:1-2).
  • When Jacob received the news that his son Joseph had died, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth as a sign of mourning, and wept for Joseph for many days (Genesis 37:34).
  • David composed a lament over Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths (2 Samuel 1:17-27).
  • Jesus himself wept at the grave of a beloved friend (John 11:33-35). He did not try to hide or suppress his sadness. Nor do we need to.

How should we mourn?

How mourning is expressed can be very different depending on the culture and the person. There are no rules about this in the Bible. There are examples in the Bible of people lamenting and weeping publicly (Mark 5:38) and of the custom of weeping at the grave of someone who has died (John 11:31). When Moses died, the Israelites lamented for him for thirty days (Deuteronomy 34:8). When Jesus died, His disciples withdrew to a house and wept and mourned (Mark 16:9-10). Mordecai, on the other hand, sought publicity when he learned that his people were about to be killed: “Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry.” (Esther 4:1)

Also, today there are people who show their grief publicly, for example by wearing dark clothes. Others mourn alone at home. The Bible does not give instructions for mourning. In Leviticus 19:28, God commands the Israelites: “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” This commandment is most likely about pagan mourning customs that were connected to idolatry. One sacrificed his own blood to the deceased. Christians must stay away from this.

When someone mourns, we are called to be a comfort for that person. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Thus, we can support others in their distress.

We mourn, but we have hope

The good news is that death is not final for people who believe in Jesus. This last enemy will be destroyed! (1 Corinthians 15:26). Therefore: “… you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Just as Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will raise all who died in faith. For believers, physical death actually is just a transition phase. As Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). When believers die, they go to be with the Lord. And one day, they’ll be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).

Death and grief will end

Grief did not originally belong to God’s creation. And it won’t belong to His new creation either! God will bring an end to sin and death, and instead He offers us eternal life on a new earth. Just as the trespass of one man (Adam) led to the death of all humans, so the atoning death and righteousness of one man (Jesus Christ) leads to the gift of eternal life for whoever believes in Him (Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This is possible because Jesus Christ has defeated Satan, and has borne God’s wrath for our sins. So, since the punishment for sin has been borne, its consequences will no longer exist on the new earth. Everything will be restored to the perfection of God’s initial creation. It will be “very good” again. Or even better than it has ever been, since God will dwell with man. Think about that!

The only ‘prerequisite’ for entering this glorious future, is putting your trust in Jesus as your Lord and asking Him to forgive your sins. Because, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Will you live with God forever?

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