The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is It Wrong to Grieve?
“I FIRMLY BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION HOPE, AND I THOUGHT THAT IT WOULD BE WRONG TO EXPRESS MY GRIEF IN FRONT OF OTHERS AND THAT I WOULD THEREBY GIVE THEM REASON TO DOUBT THAT I HAD SUCH A FIRM HOPE. I THOUGHT THAT IF I REALLY BELIEVED IN THE RESURRECTION, I WOULDN’T FEEL THE LOSS SO DEEPLY.”—CHARLENE, A BAPTIZED CHRISTIAN FOR OVER 21 YEARS.
WHEN someone you love dies, feelings and attitudes may surface that you did not expect—fear, anger, guilt, and depression. For the Christian the Bible’s heartwarming promise of a resurrection of the dead to life on a paradisaic earth under God’s Kingdom rule can help to cushion the blow. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 21:1-4) But as Charlene’s words indicate, when a loved one dies, some Christians carry an unnecessary burden—the feeling that it is wrong to mourn, that grieving somehow reveals a lack of faith in the Bible’s promise of a resurrection.
What, though, does the Bible say about grieving? Is it wrong to mourn when a loved one dies?
The faith of Abraham is well-known. When put to the test, Abraham “as good as offered up [his son] Isaac.” (Hebrews 11:17; Genesis 22:9-13) Evidently, no one had ever been resurrected before his time, but Abraham had faith that, if need be, “God was able to raise [his son] up even from the dead.” (Hebrews 11:19) About 12 years after Abraham’s faith was tested, his wife, Sarah, died. How did that man of faith react? The Bible explains that he “came in to bewail Sarah and to weep over her.”* (Genesis 23:2) Yes, the man who had faith that God could resurrect the dead grieved openly. Still, Abraham is cited as an outstanding example of faith.—Hebrews 11:8-10.
One of the most touching examples of openly grieving the loss of a loved one was Jesus Christ himself. Concerning the death of Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, we read: “Mary, when she arrived where Jesus was and caught sight of him, fell at his feet, saying to him: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping and the Jews that came with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and became troubled; and he said: ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him: ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus gave way to tears.”—John 11:32-35.
It is truly heartwarming to note that the perfect Son of God was not ashamed to grieve openly. The original-language word rendered “gave way to tears” (da·kryʹo) means “to shed tears quietly.” What is so remarkable is that Jesus had previously resurrected two persons—the son of the widow of Nain and the daughter of Jairus—and he fully intended to resurrect Lazarus. (Luke 7:11-15; 8:41, 42, 49-55; compare John 11:11.) Moments earlier he had told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.” (John 11:25) Yet, such deep emotion seized Jesus that his eyes brimmed over with tears.
There is something even more profoundly important. Jesus is “the exact representation of his [Jehovah’s] very being.” (Hebrews 1:3) Jesus’ tender and deep feelings upon losing a loved one in death therefore paint a touching picture of our heavenly Father, Jehovah. They portray a God whose heart is wrung with anguish for the grief of his servants.—Compare Psalm 56:8.
Clearly, then, it is not wrong to grieve when someone you love dies. Abraham bewailed the death of Sarah. Jesus sorrowed openly when Lazarus died. Jehovah God understands our pain because “he cares” for us.—1 Peter 5:7.
What, though, about the Christian hope? Does it make a difference?
‘Not Sorrowing as the Rest Do’
When some in the first-century Christian congregation in Thessalonica grieved over the loss of fellow believers, the apostle Paul sought to comfort them. He wrote: “Moreover, brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Yes, those who have confidence in God’s promise to raise the dead are far better off than those who do not have the resurrection hope.* How so?
In the face of death, those without the resurrection hope stand in despair. Even if they claim to believe in some kind of an afterlife, few draw any real consolation from this. For many others, their sorrow is caused not only by the fact that their loved ones are separated from them by death but from the fact that for them the separation is permanent. With no clear understanding of a resurrection, they bury their hopes when they bury their loved ones; as far as they are concerned, they will never see them again.—Compare 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 32.
It is different, however, for true Christians. Death, Paul explained, is like sleep—not only because it is an unconscious state that resembles a deep sleep but also because it is possible to be awakened from it by means of a resurrection. (Psalm 13:3; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) That Bible-based hope makes a difference.
When he loses a loved one in death, the Christian feels as keenly as unbelievers do the vanished fellowship, the loss of a familiar face, the absence of a beloved voice. The resurrection hope does not make the heart unfeeling. It does, however, temper or balance the mourning. No, that hope does not eliminate the need to grieve, but it can make the pain far easier to bear.
Regarding the Hebrew word rendered “bewail,” the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states: “All who sensed the loss of the departed would come to share their grief with the members of the family. . . . Shrill cries or loud wailing often accompanied the mourning.” Concerning the Hebrew word for “weep,” the same work explains: “Whereas tears are associated with the eyes, weeping is associated with the voice; Semites do not weep quietly, but aloud. . . . Throughout the O[ld] T[estament] weeping is the natural and spontaneous expression of strong emotion.”
The first-century Christians to whom Paul wrote had the hope of a resurrection to heaven where they would serve as corulers with Christ. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; compare Luke 22:29, 30.) Paul thus encouraged them to comfort one another with the hope that at Christ’s presence faithful ones among them who had died would be resurrected and would be united with Christ and with one another. For the vast majority of those who die, however, the Bible holds out the hope of a resurrection into a restored earthly paradise.—John 5:28, 29; Revelation 21:1-4.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Le fils puni, Louvre; © Photo R.M.N.