How can you grieve in a way that you can bring maximum glory to God? There are three important things that shape your grief: your thoughts, emotions, and belief. This article explains how Christians can control these three in a way that produces godly grief.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2017. 3 pages.

How Shall I Grieve?

When my wife died, I wrestled with a burning question: How shall I grieve so as to bring maximum glory to God in the midst of my grief? It became clear to me that there were several foundational biblical principles that I had to internalize afresh by means of renewed spiritual disciplines. These principles focus on our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. After all, in Christ, I am no longer obligated to earthly thoughts and emotions, nor should I let them rule me; instead, I can be controlled and therefore contented by the truth of God.

Our Thoughts are Under Our Control🔗

God holds His children responsible for the control of their thoughts at all times. Two texts of Scripture clearly establish this first principle. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). The verb rendered “think” means to consider, ponder, and force one’s mind to dwell upon the things iden­tified in the text. In other words, you and I are responsible for the direction and focus of our thoughts, even in the midst of crushing grief precipitated by the death of a dearly loved one.

Secondly, Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Once again, we see clearly that we are responsible for the things on which we set our minds. We are responsible to direct and focus our thoughts upon specifically identified truths, even in the midst of grief and sorrow. In this text those truths are “the things which are above, where Christ is.”

The idea here is not that if we truly obey these verses, we will not suffer the pain of loss. In my best efforts to fix my thoughts on the things above, I still felt the pain of my wife’s absence. Rather, in the midst of our grief­ which can be painful, sorrowful, lengthy, and at times even debilitating — God is gloried nevertheless when our grief includes a grace-motivated determination, in obedience to these verses, to direct our thoughts to the things above. This both glorifies God and helps to ease — not eliminate — the pain and sorrow of our grief.

Our Emotions are Not Paramount🔗

When Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, their emotional constitution, along with all their other faculties and capacities, perfectly reflected that image. Before their fall into sin, all of their emotions were sinless, never moving in any direction that did not fully mirror those of God Himself. However, when sin entered the world, the entirety of the human person — including the emotions was infected with that sin.

As fallen creatures, we all feel things we ought not to feel, while we feel other things to a degree that we ought not to feel them. Even when we are regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our remaining sin influences the totality of our humanity, including our emotions. As new creatures in Christ, we need to have our emotions informed by the light of the Word of God, the pressure of gospel motives, and the dynamics of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Our emotions need objective truth to guide them, and the subjective power of the Holy Spirit must harness and channel them in a godly way. Our current cultural climate affords little help to think biblically about this, so consider three texts of Scripture that prove this point.

First, consider Ezekiel 24:15-18: “Also the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down. Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men. So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.”

Second, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “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.”

And third, Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

Without question, if we will grieve to the glory of God, we must understand this second foundational principle from the Scriptures: Our emotions were not created by God to have ultimate authority over us. When we fail in this area, as in any other, our guilt and sin are covered by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Yet the difficulty of this command, and our frequent failure in seeking to obey it, does not alter our calling. We must use the power of the indwelling Spirit to make an ongoing, scripturally directed effort to reign in our emotions.

The Intermediate State is Real, Yet Temporary🔗

That period of time between the death of one who dies in the Lord and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory has been designated the intermediate state, but we do not know much about it. The Scriptures have much more to say concerning the final, glorified state of believers than they do the intermediate state. In fact, the Christian’s “hope” is always used in reference to the ultimate state of glorification, when our souls will be joined permanently to new, deathless bodies.

Therefore, the third foundational principle essential to godly grieving is this: We must know and firmly believe what the Scriptures teach concerning the present place and condition of our loved ones who die in the Lord.

As I held in my arms the lifeless body of my wife, I asked myself this question: What has happened to her in the few moments since she breathed her last? The clear teaching of the Scriptures regarding that question profoundly influenced both the nature and the intensity of my subsequent grief. Scripture plainly teaches us four things about the present place and condition of our loved ones who die in the Lord.

Those four things are that those who die in Christ retain full consciousness of their existence and:

  1. are immediately made perfect in total moral likeness to Christ;
  2. are immediately ushered into the very presence of Christ;
  3. are immediately brought into the company of all the blood-washed saints of Christ; and
  4. are immediately ushered into the promised rest of Christ.

Each of these things becomes the experience of the believer the moment his or her spirit is separated from the body. There is not an instant of intervening time between death and the blessed experience of these four realities.

To Glorify God🔗

Throughout Marilyn’s lengthy battle with cancer, she and I had hammered out before God some very clear guidelines concerning the point at which we would accept the inevitable (barring a direct miraculous intervention of God) and desist from any further medical treatments.

On one particular Tuesday, in March 2004, the pathology report contained both good and bad news. The good news was that the nodules in her lungs had not grown. The bad news was that there were now multiple metastases in her liver. Her reflexive response, couched in words I shall never forget, was this: “Well, dear, I am going home.” There was no hand wringing. There was no string of questions concerning God’s right to bring her to this place in her life’s history. Was there sadness in facing the fact that most likely in a few months she would leave me in the condition of a grieving widower? Of course. Was there sadness at the thought of leaving children, grandchildren, and deep earthly friendships and relationships? Of course.

However, the overriding reality possessing the soul of that dear woman was the fact that God was going to use metastatic cancer in her liver as the rough door by which she would enter “home.” Marilyn embraced the fact that as surely as it was true for Peter, God had chosen for her “by what kind of death (she) was to glorify God” (John 21:19).

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