By Tony Cooke
“Many Christians said things like, ‘Oh, I heard your dad died. Praise the Lord, he’s in Heaven,’ and, ‘He was saved, right? Then you don’t have anything to be concerned about.’ Those comments seemed so insensitive. I know my father was saved, but I still missed him in the natural. Some people forget that we are still human and have emotions. A mere, ‘I’m sorry to hear about your dad,’ spoken sincerely by non-Christians was more comforting than some of the church things I heard.”
One of the major issues encountered in dealing with the death of a loved one pertains to human emotions. Some people have been taught that if a person really has faith, he or she will not or should not experience any kind of negative emotions following a loved one’s death. But is this idea in line with the teaching of the Bible?
Ecclesiastes 3:4 states that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (NKJV). Jesus expressed the supportive and consoling nature of God toward those distressed by loss when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 NKJV). He certainly did not say, “Shame on those who mourn,” or any other condemning words. Jesus also entered fully into the experience of human sorrow when He wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35).
New Testament believers are seen expressing their grief in Acts 8:2 as “godly men [who] buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (NIV). The Old Testament also presents several cases of people, even great heroes of faith, expressing their grief and their emotions in an outward and visible way. Abraham mourned the death of Sarah and wept for her (Gen. 23:2). David mourned the deaths of his infant son (2 Sam. 12:21–23), his adult son, Absalom (2 Sam. 18:33), and the deaths of Jonathan and Saul (2 Sam. 1:11–27).
The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet many people often have a hard time dealing with the issue of emotions.
Some people tend to be unemotional. They believe it is a sign of weakness (especially for men) to express emotions. As a result, they suppress their emotions and are embarrassed to cry or to show sadness. They might feel a sense of obligation to “be strong” and show others how much “faith” they have by appearing to be totally victorious.
Other people are at the opposite end of the spectrum. These individuals not only express emotion, but they are continually controlled by their feelings. While a person can feel overcome by emotions—especially following a major loss—our feelings are not meant to rule us or dominate us on an ongoing basis.
In the Book of Psalms, we see David and others honestly express what they felt when they experienced various circumstances and situations. David did not deny the reality of his feelings, but neither did he allow them to rule over him. He poured out his heart before God, and allowed God to help him with and through what he was experiencing.
This same David wrote the famous words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4 NKJV). Notice that David did not say he was going to set up camp, or a permanent residence, in the valley of the shadow of death. He said, “Yea, though I walk through. . .” We must have confidence that God is going to walk us through the problem.
This is not to say that emotions can be turned on and off like a light switch. People working through grief have learned that it takes time to process certain emotions. Don’t become frustrated and discouraged with yourself if you find that it’s taking you longer than you would like. Even though you make decisions and endeavor to live by those decisions, it can still take considerable time to regain spiritual and emotional equilibrium following a significant loss.
How does God feel about you when you experience strong emotions over the loss of a loved one? Does He get mad at you for crying? Is He impatient with you for being emotional? No! He loves you and helps you, the same way He wants to help anyone experiencing distress (2 Cor. 1:3–4).
God did not create you to be a robot. He gave you emotions, and they have a significant role in your life. God gave you the ability to feel—the ability that causes you to feel emotional pain is the same ability that enables you to give and receive emotional joy and love.
God did not create you to be emotionless, but neither did He create you so that emotions and feelings would be the lord of your life. Talk to God about what you’re going through. Be honest with Him. Pour out your heart before Him.
HEBREWS 4:15–16 (NKJV)
15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
You can go to God for help in your time of need and obtain His mercy and grace. God is not offended by your emotions, and He wants to walk through this process with you.
Christians sometimes struggle with the idea that grief recovery is a process that takes time. They will protest, “We are Christians! We know our loved one is in Heaven. After all, the Bible says that Christians are not supposed to grieve!”
As much as we would all like to have automatic exemption from grief, or at least, an immediate recovery from all emotional pain, such desire is based more on wishful thinking than on an accurate understanding of Scripture.
The Apostle Paul did not command Christians to “sorrow not” as some have suggested. Instead, Paul said, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, EVEN AS OTHERS WHICH HAVE NO HOPE” (1 Thess. 4:13).
Note again that Paul did not say, “Sorrow not.” He didn’t tell us not to grieve. He simply said that we are not to grieve in the same way that people would grieve who have no hope of Heaven or eternal life with God. Paul certainly did not denounce all forms of grieving and emotional expression. Remember, he told the Romans to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). He told the Philippians that if his friend Epaphroditus died, he himself would have experienced “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Paul did not deny the reality of loss and sorrow, but he affirmed the fact that the believer’s experience of loss is one that can and should be infused with divine comfort and hope for the future.
As humans, we would rather have a grief recovery event rather than a grief recovery process. Who would not want instant and absolute relief, a quick fix, or a cure-all?
The good news is that God not only understands our emotional struggles, but He is totally committed to bringing us into a place of joy, gladness, and wholeness—no matter how impossible that may seem to you right now.
Sometimes we tend to run away from God when we need Him the most. No matter how you might feel right now, turn to God; talk to Him. He is ready and willing to walk with you through whatever experience you may be facing. And He is your very present help in time of trouble (Ps. 46:1).
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