by Lauren Dyck
We live in a sin-cursed world, though we are citizens of heaven, we are exiles on this earth toiling under the weight of sin, sickness, and suffering. Our bodies are mortal, yet to be exchanged for the immortal bodies we, as Christians, are promised when our time on this earth is done. We are children of God, therefore, like Jesus Christ our Lord, we will face hatred and persecution by many of the people and systems of this world, for it hated Him before us. We will face many situations and conditions that will cause much loss and deep, heart-wrenching grief. These may come in many different forms, a few of which may be church struggles, family hardships, broken marriages, rebellious children, loss of employment, slander, persecution, depression, anxiety, sickness, and – ultimately – death.
Grief is often portrayed in the Psalter and we see deep abiding emotion expressed by the Psalmists while dealing with a variety of trials and hardships:
Psalm 6: “ I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. [7a] My eye wastes away because of grief…”
Psalm 31: “ Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.  For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away…”
Psalm 119: “ My soul melts away for sorrow…”
But our trials and griefs serve a specific purpose.
We see in 1 Peter 1:7 that we are to “rejoice” in our “various kinds” of trials so that “the tested genuineness of your faith… may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The trials in our lives test our faith, they prove the genuineness of our faith which is “more precious than gold that perishes.”
Gold has always been considered a precious commodity containing great value; our faith is considered “more precious” than even gold, because gold too, like all material things, “perishes.” Our faith has eternal implications, it does not fade or diminish, it is placed in the eternal promises of God and we are “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Like gold, our faith is tested by fire; literal fire tests gold and other precious metals, and metaphorical fire (trials, persecutions, sufferings, griefs, etc.) tests our faith: Psalm 66:10 “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We see in James 1:2-4, suffering promotes endurance and perfection of character, and the apostle Paul also reiterates this in Romans 5:3-4 where we see that we are to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
There is great value in suffering for the Christian. Too often we seek to avoid all hardships, or when we find ourselves in the midst of them, we seek to be freed from whatever may have befallen us. Rather, we should look to our eternal promises as a means to endure through trials while entrusting our souls to our faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19). But we can also find great encouragement and hope in the fact that we do not suffer alone, for Christ also suffered and provided an example for us (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Our faith is valuable, and God wants to refine it. Just as gold is refined by fire that burns away impurities, likewise, suffering and affliction refines our faith, which is far more precious than gold.
Our trials are temporary and ultimately have a greater purpose. This does not diminish our grief during these times; it simply reminds us that we have an eternal hope to look forward to amidst our temporary afflictions and a means by which we may overcome our grief.
Grief is the emotional response humans feel after loss or when facing extreme hardships or disruption in life; situations and circumstances that have resulted in great loss or hold the potential of changing what we have become accustomed to in a drastic way and usually seen as negative from a temporal perspective. Grief is a deep emotion often caused by the loss of someone or something we loved or held dear. In a fallen world, loss is bound to happen and grief besets us. Grief is not an emotion to be avoided, but one to acknowledge and walk through by the help and grace of God.
The apostle Paul experienced grief over the lost state of his kinsmen in Romans 9:2-3 “…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul suffers from “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” because his Jewish kinsmen are unsaved; to the point where, if possible, he would wish himself accursed so that his fellow Jews might be saved, but we know that only Jesus is a sufficient substitute, so Paul grieves the lost state of Israel.
In Acts 20, the apostle Paul is saying his farewell to the Ephesian elders knowing that “imprisonment and affliction” awaited him (v. 23), and this caused (v. 37-38) “much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.” They loved Paul and, knowing they would never see him again, caused much weeping and sorrow.
One of the most popular passages of grieving found in the New Testament speaks of our Lord himself when the apostle John wrote the words, “Jesus wept.” Even though Jesus knew that within moments Lazarus would be alive again and there would be much joy, He was overcome with emotion and He wept.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Thankfully, the child of God is not left to their own devices when seeking comfort after the death of a loved one or other situations of loss or devastation that have caused grief. We are given great hope in overcoming deep, heart-wrenching grief. As Dr. James White notes in his book Grieving – Your Path Back to Peace:
Hope is the key to the grieving process. It is what makes the difference between being in the downward spiral, headed to despair, and the upward [track], leading to acceptance of one’s loss and the ability to once again love and rejoice and feel with all of one’s heart. Hope will determine which direction a person will travel and how fully a person will experience the healing power of the grieving process… It is the power that keeps one going, the fuel that runs the engine of the soul, the medicine that brings healing to a wounded heart. It gives strength to face an uncertain future, for it looks not to its own resources, but to Christ!… hope and faith are the works of the Spirit in a person’s heart, and God will be faithful to those who are His. While the flame of hope may grow dim and seem to have gone out, it will flare up yet again in the hearts of those who have by grace known Christ!
Having identified our hope in Christ as the key to overcoming grief, let’s dig into that and see what it looks like for the believer and the means by which we can achieve this, and how to get the comfort we read in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
- Comfort through Christ
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…”
We find comfort in Christ because as we saw in earlier in John 11:35, Jesus understands our griefs for He “wept,” and so we find comfort in Him…
- By believing in Him. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
- By obeying him. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10-11)
- Through prayer and meditation. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9)
The compassion of Christ goes beyond mere sympathy. Jesus does not just feel sorry for us in our weakness and pain. He takes the agony on Himself:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)
In this prophecy, grief, suffering, and sickness are bundled up together with sin and guilt and placed onto the Messiah’s back. And, when Jesus comes, he carries that load. He bears the weight of guilt and sin in our place. But He also bears the heartbreak of our suffering. He weeps with us, but He will one day also wipe every tear from our eyes.
Jesus calls us to place our burdens on Him and find our ultimate rest in Him:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
2. Comfort through the Church
Another means that God has graciously granted us by which we can experience comfort, and overcome grief, is the church.
“…so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
As Christians, we belong to the body of Christ, the church and we find comfort through bearing one another’s griefs…
- By weeping with those who weep. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
- By sharing one another’s suffering. “But God has composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26)
Belonging to the body of Christ then becomes an integral means in overcoming our grief.
Read these Psalms again that I quoted earlier in this post where you read the parts of these passages outlining grief, sorrow, and mourning, now lets focus on the hope the Psalmists found in the Lord during these times:
Psalm 6: “ I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. [7a] My eye wastes away because of grief… [8b] …the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.  The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.”
Psalm 31: “ Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.  For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away…  But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!  Make Your face shine on our servant; save me in your steadfast love!…  Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city…  Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts I pride.  Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”
Psalm 119: “ My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!  Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!  I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.  I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame!  I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!”
We have a God that hears our prayers. He preserves the faithful and gives courage to our hearts. And, we have the true and sufficient Word of God in which we find so many promises of hope for us to cling to.
Jesus Himself is interceding for us, ever bringing our deepest needs before the throne of God so we can rest assured that we have a kind and merciful High Priest that is familiar with our suffering and grief, and He loves us!
Through Christ and the church, we can have joy and peace again–even in the midst of suffering and grief–as we remember that Jesus died and rose again, conquering death so we know that our grief is temporary.
(excerpt from the sermon Overcoming Grief)