Grief can often feel like a bully. It’s not uncommon for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one to be overtaken by waves of sorrow when they least expect it. Sometimes it’s a simple sight or smell that brings us to our knees; we’ll find ourselves head-in-hand, weeping as if the loss happened afresh. These moments are a stark reminder of the brokenness and pain that ravishes this world, and they expose the tender scars which emboss our bereaved, broken hearts.
When grief invades our day, it’s disorienting. For a moment, we’re thrown off balance by it: tears blur our vision, our posture crumples, and all other thoughts are doused by a jet-stream of pain. Grief floods our memories as blood to a wound—we loved, we lost, and we’re made to feel the reality of it once again.
Even though grief can be aggressive, pushing it back is not helpful. Grief doesn’t demand to be overcome—it brashly appeals to our hearts, crying, Hear me! This hurts! In short, grief requests our engagement. While some may choose to silence their sorrows through self-medication, followers of Christ are called to engage their grief with hope. Christian hope is not meant to cancel out our griefs and sorrows, but is meant to sustain and comfort us in them and ultimately redeem us from them.
Hope Without Grief is Unsustainable
Sometimes Christians believe it’s unspiritual to grieve heartily over a loved one’s death. In an attempt to stuff our feelings down into a temporarily untouchable pit, we’ll pretend the pain isn’t there. Instead, we’ll label our sorrow-suppression as “faith” in order to sport a grief-free facade. We’ll think to ourselves, I know I have hope, so I don’t need to feel this pain.
But the Scriptures teach this approach to hope is unsustainable. We cannot guard ourselves from mourning or mortality. Life that floats upon the hope of self-sufficiency drowns when the storm of grief arrives. Isaiah 17:10-11 NIV speaks of the devastating consequences of placing our hopes in self-reliance. We may find temporary comfort in adorning our gardens with “the finest plants” of man-made hope, “yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.”
Hope without grief is unsustainable because mourning is guaranteed to come—we are foolish to believe otherwise. And when it does, our misplaced hopes will not withstand the force of its gale. Shallow hope that refuses to be realistic about grief will be blown away in a day of incurable pain. But when we engage our grief, using it as an opportunity to look to our Master, the Holy One of Israel, we remember the certainty of God’s unshakable promise—a living Hope that anchors our souls when the swells of grief churn.
Grief Without Hope is Uninformed
The Scriptures exhort us to be informed as we grieve, and not to mourn as those who have no resurrection hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). We are informed by engaging our grief when it surprises us—by remembering that Jesus died for our sins, rose again, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and promised everlasting life to those who believe. One day soon, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
We cannot separate hope from grief because we are co-heirs with Christ. When we grieve, we do so with the assurance that, as the Pulpit Commentary suggests, “the tears of Jesus…have authorized and sanctified Christian sorrow.” Think of it: when Jesus wept, Hope grieved. How strange! The One who would be raised from the dead still experienced grief and sorrow. Just minutes before he raised beloved Lazarus to life, he wept at the tomb of his friend. It is good and right to mourn over suffering and loss—even when we know how the story ends—because pain is real and suffering is real and they both beg for genuine engagement with Christ, our Wonderful Counselor.
Responding Biblically to Grief
In this world, we will be visited by the bully of grief, but we take heart because Christ defeated death once and for all. We ought not to be surprised when grief comes knocking on our door, no matter how long ago it first visited. A biblical response to grief doesn’t involve ignoring the pain, nor does it involve believing we are hopeless because of it.
Instead, the Bible encourages us to handle grief as informed people of God, with a humble surrender and settled assurance. Humble surrender, because we feel the weight of our sorrow, mourn what death has separated, and confess our dependence upon God in all things. Settled assurance, because the Holy Spirit grants us confidence in God’s promises, reminding us that eternal Hope does not sink with the coffin or ash in the flame. Jesus Christ makes no home in the grave.
Our faith is made strong by engaging—not ignoring—our grief. We cry, Lord, I feel this pain and it breaks my heart, but you weep with me and promise to set things right one day. You are not asking me to bear something you have not experienced yourself. Therefore, I have hope and take comfort, for I know my Redeemer lives.
Hope without grief is unsustainable and will not withstand the day of incurable pain. Grief without hope is uninformed and forgets the resurrected Christ. But grief and hope engaged on parallel tracks of faith offers breathing room for the bereaved and solace for the mourner. We cry the tears and do not forsake them. We remember our hope and do not refuse its comforts. And in this bittersweet exchange of raw emotion and memory, we hear the tender whispers of Christ’s consolations:
So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. John 16:22 NLT