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Grief Counseling

Sermon Series:

1.      Understanding Grief

2.      Overcoming Grief

3.      Helping Others      with Grief

4.      God and Grief

Understanding Grief



(1)  Sadly, grief is a fact of life.

(2)  However, many people fail to understand grief.

(3)  Therefore, we will seek to gain an understanding about grief.


I.                   Definition of Grief:

A.     Webster’s defines grief as: “Deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” (New Collegiate Dictionary).

B.     Harold Ivan Smith describes it as “a 1001-piece jigsaw puzzle – only there is no picture to guide you. You have no idea whether this piece of blue is sky, water, or a car. All you know is someone is impatiently demanding, ‘Come on. Haven’t you figured it out yet?’” (78).

C.     Please note: Grief may occur over the loss of something as well as someone.

II.                Biblical Examples of Grief:

A.     Gen. 26:34-35 – Isaac & Rebekah grieved over Esau’s marriage to women outside the lineage of Abraham.

B.     1 Sam. 1:16 – Hannah grieved over her barren womb.

C.     2 Chron. 6:28-29 – Landowners grieved over their loss of land.

D.     Job 6:2-3 – Job grieved because of the: 1) Loss of children; 2) Loss of livestock; 3) Loss of Servants; and 4) Loss of health.

III.             Stages of Grief (Kubler-Ross):

A.     Denial

B.     Anger

C.     Bargaining

D.     Depression

E.      Acceptance

F.      Hope (added by Dr. Mathis)

IV.            Facts about Grief (Williams & Williams 30-36):

A.     Grief is a natural and healthy consequence that should occur when a loss has happened in a person’s life!

B.     Grief affects a person with their whole being: Emotionally, Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually!

C.     Grief is always an individual matter; You NEVER know how another person feels!

D.     A person’s grief experience will be directly affected by the significance of that loss!


(1) M. Scott Peck well-said: “Life is difficult” (1).

(2) Nevertheless, an understanding of what is grief can help us as we grieve.

Overcoming Grief


(1)    Again, grief is “a whole host of emotions ranging from anxiety to anger to guilt to confusion to relief and more … it reaches into every part of your life, touch your work, you relationship with others, and your image of yourself … you can expect grief to have an affect on you psychologically, socially, and physically” (Rando, How to Go On 25).

(2)    Today, let us look at way of ‘overcoming grief.’


I.                   Some Biblical Responses to Grief:

A.   Deut. 34:8 – Israel mourned and wept over Moses’ death for a period of 30 days.

B.   Job 2:11-13 – Job’s friends simply sat with him in complete silence for a period of 7 days.

C.   2 Sam. 12:15-23 – David fasted and wept while his child was sick and stopped upon the child’s death; thus, displaying acceptance and hope.

D.   John 11:35 – Jesus wept.

II.                Elements of Recovering from Grief:

A.   The grieving process = 18-24 months

B.   Like the uniqueness of a thumbprint, no two grief experiences (i.e., ‘griefprints’) are identical.

C.   “The essential processes of grief work are, first, the facing of the physical reality with all of its implications; second, the recognition and expression of the emotions that are relevant to the physical event; third, the process of working through the emotions by talking them out in visitations and family events or with trusted counselors, and also by acting out the deep feelings through appropriate rites, rituals, and ceremonials” (Branch & Platt 225).

D.   3 Tasks to Be Accomplished:

1.     Intellectual Recognition and Explanation of the Loss

2.     Emotional Acceptance of the Loss

3.     Assumption of a New Identity

III.             Positive Aspects of Grief (Westberg):

A.   We come out of our grief experience at a slightly higher level of maturity than before.

B.   We come out of our grief as deeper persons, because we have been in the depths of despair and know what it is like.

C.   We come out of it stronger, for we have had to learn how to use our spiritual muscles to climb the rugged mountain trails.

D.   We come out of it better able to help others. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of grief. We can understand.


(1) Note: One never truly ‘gets over’ his/her loss.

(2) However, one can learn to live with the loss and how to continue on with life in a different capacity.

Helping Others with Grief


(1)    Over 2.3 million persons die each year in the U.S.

(2)    Thus, someone you know will be faced with grief.

(3)    What can we do to help those who are grieving?


I.                   What to Avoid:

A.   Things not to say:

1.     Time will heal all wounds

2.     Life goes on

3.     No sense dwelling on the past

4.     It was God’s will

5.     I know how you feel

6.     You can have more children

7.     You’ll remarry

B.   Consider this poem by Rita Moran entitled “Please:”

          Please, don’t ask me if I’m over it yet.

                   I’ll never be over it.

          Please, don’t tell she’s in a better place.

                   She isn’t with me.

          Please, don’t say at least she isn’t suffering.

                   I haven’t come to terms with why she had to suffer at all.

          Please, don’t tell me you know how I feel …

                   Unless you have lost a child.

          Please, don’t ask me if I feel better.

                   Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.

          Please, don’t tell me at least you had her for so many years.

                   What year would you choose for your child to die?

          Please, don’t tell me God never gives us more than we can bear

          Please, just say you are sorry.

                   Just let me talk about my child.

                   Just say you remember my child, if you do.

                   Just let me cry.


II.                What to Do:

A.   “What people going through sorrow need most is consolation, not explanation” (Harold Kushner).

B.   “Grief should not be an embarrassment. The bereaved should be encouraged to express, without interference, any honest and appropriate emotion he may be feeling” (Flatt 56).

C.   Hear some Biblical advice:

1.     Prov. 15:28 – “The mind of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (AMP).

2.     Prov. 10:19 – “Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow” (TLB).

3.     Prov. 17:27 – “The smart person says very little and one with understanding stays calm” (NCV).

4.     1 Thess. 5:11 – Encourage and Edify One Another (‘Encourage’ [Gr. Paramutheomai] – to console, comfort, and cheer up).

5.     Gal. 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens

6.     Rom. 12:15 – Weep with those who weep

D.   Consider how Jesus responded to the grieving (Jn. 11):

1.     Be Real – Jesus Wept

2.     Be Quiet – Jesus allowed Mary & Martha to express their feelings without rebuke

3.     Be Supportive – Jesus was there

4.     Be Available – Jesus came again (John 12:1-2)


(1) Help others the way you want to be helped.

(2) Just be there and love them during the loss.

God and Grief


1.            Atheists argument:

God either wishes to take away evil, and is

                   unable; or He is both willing and able.  If

                   He is willing but unable, He is feeble, which is

not in accordance with the character of God.  If

He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is

equally at variance with God.  If He is both

envious and feeble, and therefore not God.  If He

is both willing and able, which alone is suitable

for God, from what source then are evils?  Or why

does He not remove them? (Epicurus)

2.            Basically, how can an all-loving and all-powerful God allow evil/suffering to exist?


I.                   Purpose of the world and man.

A.          God wanted fellowship with man (Eph. 1.4-6, 12).

1.            Fellowship is not forced.

2.            God only desires true worshippers (John 4.23).

3.            Thus, man had to be in an environment where he could choose freely whether he would come into fellowship with God.

B.           This world, thus, had to be a “vale of soul-making.” (Hick 289)

1.            Man had to be a free moral agent.

a.             He would not then be overwhelmed by God (317-18).

b.            He still would have adequate evidence that God exists (cf. Ps. 19.1-2; 7-11).

2.            The world would have to be law-abiding and teleological.

a.             Man could depend upon it for regularity.

b.            This would entail suffering.

3.            It had to be a place where men were challenged to obey God (Warren, Have Atheists 45).

4.            It had to fulfill man’s basic needs.

C.           Most people want “heaven upon earth.”

D.          If God were to change this, then He would have to change His purposes for God and man (Wiersbe 35).

II.                Problem of sin

A.          Sin is the intrinsic evil.

B.           Free moral agency had to include possibility of sinning.

1.            God did not make man as a robot.

a.             Some suggest that when God choose to have offspring, then He had to make them as free-moral agents (e.g., Cates).

b.            Regardless, God’s purpose for man necessitated man’s being a free-moral agent.

2.            God’s justice demanded that sin be punished.

a.      Gen. 3 – labor with hands

b.      Rom. 5 – death entered into the world

C.           The problem of sin was cured by God but not in such a way as to interfere with man’s free moral agency.

1.            Jesus was sent to be the lamb of God (John 1.29; 3.16).

2.            This shows that God truly is all-loving and does care.

D.          Bert Thompson suggests three cases of suffering that are directly related to sin:

1.      The first case is that one may suffer because of personal wrong choices made by him/her.

2.     The second case is that one may suffer because of the wrong choices made by others.

3.     The third case is that one may suffer because of the wrong choices made by former generations (“Does Human Suffering” 282).

III.             Permitted for God’s purposes for God and man.

A.     To imagine a world without suffering is to imagine absence of all virtues, lack of any compassion, courage, unselfishness, and determination (Liderbach 32).  Life would basically be intolerable and the world would be one of chaos (Hall 22).

B.      Some cases of suffering are, in actuality, needed for man in order for him/her to become what God would have him/her be.

1.       Heb. 12.4f – God disciplines his people

2.       Also, suffering makes man appreciate what is to come and aids in his/her understanding of the ugliness of sin and the beauty of Heaven (Jackson 26).

(a)              Rom. 8.18 – not worthy to be compared to coming glory

(b)              Understand why sin must be punished

3.       “Suffering has a value in the thought of God that is known only to him; it is not necessarily to be understood as a means of discipline or as a punishment (cf. Psa. 23.4).  It is enough for the sufferer to know that even the dark and obscure ways are watched over by God.” (Gerstenberger and Schrage 115)

C.      What about natural calamity?

1.            “Laws that make it possible to have things constructive to human life also introduce the possibility of things destructive to humankind” (Thompson, “Divine Benevolence” 30).

2.            “In a physical world where there is water for boating and swimming, some will drown. If there are mountains to climb, there must also be valleys into which one may fall. If there are cars to drive, collisions can also occur. It may be said that tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are likewise by-products of a good physical world. For instance, the purpose of rain is not to flood or drown, but

the result of rain may include these disasters. Likewise, hot and cold air are an essential and purposeful part of the physical world, but under certain conditions they may combine to form tornadoes.” (Geisler 72, emp. in orig.)

D.     One should ask, “What is to be accomplished by this world?”

1.            Miracles:

a.             Power to heal, but not all healed

b.            Why?  John 20.30-31 – Healing everyone was not the purpose of miracles.

2.            God has accomplished His purposes

E.      God’s justice would be called into question if suffering were not present.

F.       Rom. 8.28 – God works things out for His eternal purposes


1.            Eyes need to be opened as was Job’s who came to see that God was in control and knew what He was doing even though man, at times, may fail to see that (Hartley 49-50).

2.            Remember: Christ suffered for God’s eternal purpose.

Works Cited

Flatt, Bill.  Growing Through Grief.  Nashville, TN: GA, 1987.

Geisler, Norman L.  The Roots of Evil.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.

Gerstenberger, Erhard S. and Wolfgang Schrage.  Suffering.  Nashville:

Abingdon, 1977.

Hall, Charles Cuthbert.  Does God Send Trouble?  Cambridge: Riverside,


Hartley, John E.  The Book of Job.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Hick, John.  Evil and the God of Love.  Glasgow: Wm. Collins Sons and

Co., 1968.

Holland, Thomas.  Help and Healing for People Who Hurt.  Brentwood, TN:

          Penmann Pub., 1998.

Jackson, Wayne.  “The Value of Human Suffering.”  Reason And

Revelation 17.4 (April 1997): 25-27.

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth.  On Death and Dying.  New York: Touchstone, 1969

Lactantius. “A Treatise on the Anger of God.”  Ante-NiceneFathers.  Vol. 7.

Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1951.

Liderbach, Daniel.  Why Do We Suffer?  New York: Paulist, 1992.

Mackie, J.L.  “Evil and Omnipotence.”  God and Evil. Ed. Nelson Pike. 

Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1964.

Peck, M. Scott.  The Road Less Traveled.

Platt, Larry A. & Roger G. Branch.  Resources for Ministry in Death and

Dying.  Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1998.

Rando, Therese A.  Grief, Dying, and Death.  Champaign, IL: Research

          Press Co., 1984.

- - -.  How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies.  New York:

          Bantam Books, 1988.

Smith, Harold I.  When Your People are Grieving: Leading in Times of

Loss.  Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2001.

Thompson, Bert.  “Does Human Suffering Disprove the Existence of a

Benevolent God?”  Giving a Reason For Our Hope.  Ed. Winford

Claiborne.  Henderson: FHU, 1990.  280-285

- - -.  “Divine Benevolence, Human Suffering, And Intrinsic Value.” 

Reason and Revelation 17.4 (April 1997): 28-31.

Warren, Thomas B.  Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?  Moore:

National Christian, 1972.

Westberg, Granger E.  Good Grief.  Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1997.

Williams, Don & Ron Williams.  Walking with Those Who Weep: A Guide

to Grief Support.  Pulaski, TN: Sain Pub., 1996.

Williams, Don.  Hope for Those Who Struggle: Coping with the Losses of

Life.  Pulaski, TN: Sain Pub., 1999.

Wiersbe, Warren W. & David W. Wiersbe.  Comforting the Bereaved. 

Chicago, IL: Moody, 1985.

Wiersbe, Warren W.  Why Us?  Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1984. 

Wright, H. Norman.  Helping Those Who Hurt.  Minneapolis, MN: Bethany,


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