Grief, Mourning and Lament
by KEN ALEXANDER
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Summary: Having recently lost someone close to me this author explores grief from a scriptural standpoint as he grieves his personal loss.
Grief, Mourning and Lament
Grief and morning come in different forms in the scriptures. It also comes in different forms in today’s world. Grief is emotional suffering brought on by bereavement, mishap, or disaster. To grieve is either to cause or feel sorrow or distress. The concept is found in the Scriptures under a variety of circumstances. Isaac and Rebekah experienced grief when their son Esau married a Hittite woman (Gn 26:35 KJV). God mourned the misery of Israel brought upon them by disobedience (Jdgs 10:16 KJV). Hannah was so sad because she had no son that she appeared to be drunk while praying (1 Sm 1:16 KJV). Similarly, Samuel, distraught at King Saul’s disobedience, prayed all night. Job was exceedingly sorrowful over his personal loss (Jb 2:13; cf. 6:2; 16:6), and the psalmist poetically demonstrated distress and sorrow (cf. Pss 6:7; 31:9, 10; 69:26 KJV; 73:21 KJV; 95:10 KJV; 112:10 KJV). The Book of Lamentations is devoted to the expression of grief, and the prophets in general speak of judgment because Israel had grieved a holy God.
Jesus experienced sorrow and distress (Mk 3:5; Jn 11:33), including the death of a friend (Jn 11:35). The Jews are said to have been grieved as the apostles taught about Christ (Acts 4:2 KJV). The apostle Paul instructed believers not to grieve one another (Rom 14:15 KJV) and did not want to cause any sorrow himself (2 Cor 2:1–5 KJV). Most of all, the believer is not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). A believer may, of course, suffer grief and suffering in an alien world (1 Pt 2:19 KJV). In Bible times grief was given particular expression at a time of death by means of shrieks, wails, and laments (cf. Jer 9:17, 18; Am 5:16; Mk 5:38)( cf. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).
Human grief has been defined as: “Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret; a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow” (Dictionary.com). Grief is the profound human experience that accompanies major loss. It entails cognitive, emotional, and spiritual processing. While much has been said about the course of grief (e.g., Kübler-Ross’s well-known stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) for most people grief is a convoluted and complicated process that waxes and wanes. Despite the fact that each individual has a unique journey through the valley of grief, there are common aspects of grief that nearly everyone experiences.
Grief is an awareness of the pain of having lost someone or something significant in one’s life. It can manifest on an emotional level as sadness/depression, emotional numbness, mood fluctuations, anger, resentment, guilt, hopelessness, or loneliness. The individual may be flooded with recollections or attempt to quash all memories. He or she may experience cognitive impairment in concentration and memory. Relationships may be disturbed. Physically, disruptions of everyday functioning in sleeping, eating, and sexual activity are typical. Fatigue/lethargy or somatic symptoms, such as headaches or digestive disturbances, may occur. Spiritual manifestations include anguished questioning of God, anger at God, and/or deep longings for which words are inadequate. A grieving person may feel a need to cry out to God almost constantly or, conversely, feel that his or her prayer life has dried up completely. The pervasive way that grief affects all levels of functioning can lead to a sense of disorganization, inducing fear that the pain and other symptoms may render the individual completely nonfunctional.
Grief is a necessary emotional response to loss, a healthy and normal healing process that parallels the healing process the body goes through in reaction to physiological damage. Some people attempt to circumvent the pain of loss by avoiding embracing grief, but this only serves to foster psychological and spiritual dysfunction. Social support, attention to one’s spirituality, and consistent self-care facilitate the grief process. Resolution of grief occurs when one has been able to accept and express all the feelings the loss generated and to move on into a “new normal” life. Spiritually, people often discover that navigating through a profound grief experience strengthens their faith and fosters spiritual growth (assistance by G. G. Scorgie, Ed.)Dictionary of Christian spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Jesus grieved. After his long outburst of anger against the Pharisees and teachers, Jesus grieved for Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! “For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Mt 23:37-39). He has longed to gather and protect his people, but his love has been spurned. Soon he will leave the temple for the last time, and the presence of God will no longer dwell there. Jesus will not return unless and until the people welcome him as their Lord and God.
Jesus was grieved at the Pharisees hardness of heart. “He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand. And they (the Pharisees and religious leaders) were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they might accuse Him… And He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored” (Mark 3:1-5). This indignant anger was not inconsistent with the love and pity of Jesus. Murder was in their hearts and Jesus knew it. Anger against wrong, as wrong, is a sign of moral health (Gould). He was grieved at the hardness of their hearts. Mark alone gives this point. The anger was tempered by grief. Jesus is the Man of Sorrows and this present participle brings out the continuous state of grief whereas the momentary angry look is expressed. Their own heart or attitude was in a state of moral ossification (πωρωσις [pōrōsis]) like hardened hands or feet (Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament).
At Gethsemane Jesus was grieved to the point of death. “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” ((Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34). Jesus grief was so severe that He sweated blood (Luke 22:44). Throughout history, there have been reported cases of hematidrosis, a bloody sweat that emits from the forehead of a person under extreme emotional stress. When the tiny blood vessels of the forehead rupture from the stress, it combines with sweat and forms the bloody sweat. The stress would have to be intense for hematidrosis to occur. A stress like facing death.
Isaiah 53 describes the man Jesus and describes His afflictions and grief. “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him…Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted” (Is 53:3-4, 11). Jesus took our griefs upon Himself and bore the torment thereof. Yet man (we) had no idea of what He bore on our behalf. “WHO has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (v. 53:1).
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus and Jesus grieved along with Mary and Martha. “When Jesus therefore saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, [grieved] and said, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34-35). One of the most moving scenes in the life of Jesus is the death of Lazarus. Here we see not only the power of Jesus to raise the dead, but the emotions of Jesus moved by the grief of those around Him. Martha’s faith is evident as she approached Jesus, four days after the death of Lazarus, and professed belief that He could save her dead brother. When Mary came as well and Jesus saw her grief and the grief of those with her, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (11:33). Scripture then tells us that Jesus wept (Jn 11:35).
A lament (noun) or lament (verb) mean collectively: “To feel or express sorrow or regret for; to mourn for or over. To feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret. To mourn deeply.
an expression of grief or sorrow”. Weeping and lamentation are part of the human experience. So it is not surprising that there is a rich literature of lamentation in the O T. Well over a third of the psalms in the Psalter are laments, individual (e.g., 22, 42–43, 139) and communal (e.g., 44, 80). Most of these follow a lament form that moves through complaint and petition to a testimony of praise at the end (Anderson, 1974:56–58; Martens: 301–2). Chapters 3 and 5 of the book of Lamentations follow this lament form.
The laments in Isaiah 15:1–9 and 16:6–11 present the experience of lament, but not its formal character. This experience is described by using the words and emotions of grief and despair (weeping, wailing, mourning, tears). Moab is both the subject and the object of lament.
What is in view here is a national lament, not merely for the loss of wealth and possessions, but also for the loss of a homeland. The means of production is gone. Security is gone. Well-being is gone. The tragedy is all but impossible to imagine.
Probably most important is that we can grieve the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”. How do we grieve the Holy Spirit?
Lying grieves the Holy Spirit Eph 4:25). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth,” and He hates with immeasurable hatred all falsehoods—all lies—black lies and white lies. It causes great grief to Him when a lie escapes the lips of a child of God. We also grieve the Spirit by uncontrolled anger (Eph 4:26). The next thing that is mentioned as grieving the Holy Spirit is stealing (Eph 4:28).
The Holy Spirit is grieved by corrupt conversation (Eph 4:29). The Holy Spirit is grieved not only over our use of corrupt speech, but also over our neglect of good speech. There is a whole class of actions, words and feelings that grieve the Holy Spirit (see Eph 4:31).
2. Wrath, sudden anger.
3. Anger, settled anger.
4. Clamour. That means the noisy assertion of our own rights and wrongs.
5. Evil speaking.
6. All malice. That is the root of all the rest of the evils mentioned.
In contrast with these actions that grieve the Holy Spirit cited in v. 31, verse 32 sets forth the attitude of heart and life toward one another that is well pleasing to Him. Unless we are thus “kind, tender hearted,” the Spirit is grieved.
Why should we not grieve the Holy Spirit? First of all we ought not to grieve the Holy Spirit out of consideration for Him. The claims of the Holy Spirit upon each of us are infinitely greater than those of a mother. We should have a more tender consideration for Him than for her. Not only is He a being of wondrous dignity and glory, a Divine being, whose rights are supreme, but He is a being of wondrous, matchless tenderness and love.
We ought not to grieve the Holy Spirit out of consideration for ourselves.The results of grieving the Holy Spirit are very grievous to ourselves. What are they? The Holy Spirit cannot do His whole work when He is grieved. He is hindered from doing in us what He would do. For any measure of blessing and power in any direction we are absolutely dependent upon the Holy Spirit. See the similarity of grief experienced by the Spirit and human grief. When we grieve we cannot accomplish our full potential in the Lord.
If the Holy Spirit is grieved our prayers will be hindered. The great secret of profitable Bible study is studying the Bible under the Holy Spirit as our teacher. If then the Holy Spirit is grieved we lose something of our joy in Bible Study and almost all of our profit. True joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). If, then, the Spirit is grieved our joy will be hindered. We may even lose altogether the joy of our salvation. Power in service is lost by grieving the Spirit. The warning of our text is a very important and very solemn one. How much depends upon our heeding it. Anything that is unholy or wrong in deed or word or act grieves Him (parts from Torrey, R. A. (1901). How to work for Christ a compendium of effective methods. (pp. 387–388).
Jesus said: “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come” (Mt 12:30–32). Blasphemy against the tender, loving Spirit, grieves Him to the point that forgiveness cannot thereby be found. It thus affects our entire salvation that the Holy Spirit was commissioned to bring.
However in the end the Lord turns grief to joy His true purpose. “THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
©Kenneth B. Alexander
Scriptures: New American Standard Bible, ’86 edition
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