Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Grief, Grieving

Additional Links

Scripture often speaks of God as being grieved or experiencing grief. This holds true for each member of the Trinity. In Genesis 6:6-8 the Father is grieved because of the sinfulness of the human race. The disobedience of Israel and the church grieves the Holy Spirit ( Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30 ). The Son of God is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3-10; Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35; John 11:35 ).

The Bible often expresses the things of God in human form or with human feelings in order to accommodate our limited understanding. Yet with regard to grief and grieving, the Scriptures are not simply explaining a divine action in human terms. Rather, the subject of divine grief addresses the very essence of God as a person and the image of God in all persons. The grief of God testifies to that dynamic, living relationship that exists between God and humankind. Right as Aristotle was in many ways, God is not an "Unmoved Mover."

God is grieved when his covenantal love is rebuffed by human disobedience and sin. His anguished response to sin is evidenced in two main ways: divine judgment and compassion for the sinner. Although antithetical in nature, these aspects of God's grief work together for salvation. Genesis 6:5-8 serves as a paradigm in this regard. The Hebrew root for "grieve, " nhm [ Genesis 6:7-8 ). The end of the ordeal is marked by a reaffirmation of God's covenantal faithfulness to his entire creation (Genesis 8:21-22 ). So in grief God punishes, identifies with the moral plight of his creatures, and accomplishes his redemptive purposes.

This pattern occurs repeatedly in God's dealing with Israel. God was grieved when Israel rebelled and forgot his special covenantal favors (Psalm 78:40-55; 95:10 ). They grieved his Holy Spirit, which led God to become the very opposite of what he wished to be. He ceased to be their loving Father and became their enemy (Isaiah 63:10 ). Yet his chastening hand relents and ultimately brings restoration (Psalm 106:45-46; Jeremiah 26:19; Amos 7:3-6; Jonah 3:10 ).

The punitive and salvific aspects of God's grief coalesced in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sin grieved the goodness of God and assailed his holiness. In judgment he condemned the creation of his own hands. Yet in grief and through grief he redeemed the world by his Son (John 3:16 ). Isaiah's messianic prophecy describes God's Anointed as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3 ). Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, pleaded with Jerusalem, and agonized in the garden (John 11:33; Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35; Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34; Luke 22:44 ). He learned obedience through suffering so that in all things he might be touched by the suffering of all people (Hebrews 4:15; 5:7-8 ).

William A. Simmons

Bibliography . E. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God; V. P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17; K. Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God; L. J. Kuyper, SJT 22 (1969): 257-77; J. K. Mozley, The Impassibility of God; J. N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39; J. Ridderbos, Isaiah; G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 ; C. Westermann, Isaiah 40-66 .

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Grief, Grieving'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry