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6/26/12 at 11:49 PM 0 Comments

The TIME Approach to Grief Support (BOOK EXCERPT, PT 3)

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The Book Stop Blog is featuring excerpts from The TIME Approach to Grief Support by Edmund Ng and WinePress Publishing.

The TIME Approach to Grief Support by Edmund Ng

Biblical Perspective

Our God is a God of love, compassion, and comfort. So God has a special concern for those who are needy and hurting. In two places in the Bible, Deuteronomy 10:18 and Psalm 68:5, God specifically declares that He is the defender of widows and father to the fatherless. His special interest toward widows and the fatherless is echoed in many other passages of Scripture, including Deuteronomy 14:29; Isaiah 1:17; and Jeremiah 49:11.

In line with this unique characteristic of God, the Bible consistently reminds us of our responsibility to care for widows and the fatherless, and by implication, all others who are hurting and in hardship following the loss of their loved ones.

Old Testament Teaching and Practice

In ancient times, people would come, sometimes from afar, to mourn with and comfort the bereaved when someone in the family died. These people who came included “sons and daughters” (Gen. 37:35), “relatives” (1 Chron. 7:22), “friends” (Job 2:11), and “servants” (2 Sam. 10:2). After the loss of his children and his possessions, the Bible tells us that Job’s three friends came “to mourn with him and to comfort him” (Job 2:11 kjv). This story perhaps is known to many of us. Note that the incident took place during Job’s period of mourning and not just at the time of the funeral and burial of the deceased.

We have limited indications of the duration of mourning apart from information in the Bible that the Egyptians mourned for Jacob for seventy days (Gen. 50:3) and the Israelites mourned for Aaron for thirty days (Num. 20:29). The tradition in Israel until today is that they will mourn for the death of a family member for as long as one year by abstaining from merrymaking.

God’s exhortation in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort my people,” was issued to the leaders of Israel near the close of the Jewish captivity in Babylon. The Hebrew word used here for comfort, nacham, has its root in the word “sigh,” meaning to groan or grieve with. Its meaning also connotes turning one to the truth. It is the same word that is used in the context of comforting those who mourn over the loss of loved ones, as seen in Job 2:11 and the other Old Testament verses mentioned above. Therefore, God’s call to comfort the grieving covered consoling both the Israelites who were mourning because of their sinfulness and those suffering from the loss of their loved ones, possessions, and nation.

Likewise, in the context of God’s prophetic proclamation in Isaiah 61:1, 2, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me ... to comfort all who mourn,” comforting those who mourn refers to those who mourn over sin as well as those who mourn the loss of loved ones. The same Hebrew word, nacham, is used.

Whether nacham refers to mourning over sin or the loss of a loved one, the gospel of Jesus has afforded abundant sources of consolation. So in the New Testament, God’s command to comfort widows and others who mourn over the loss of a loved one becomes clearer and more directive in content and application to reflect that quality of God’s character as the defender of widows and father to the fatherless.

New Testament Teaching and Practice

Evidently, the Old Testament practice of comforting those who mourned over the loss of a loved one was practiced in Israel in the days of Jesus. The passage in John 11 tells us that Jesus went to Bethany because Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was very sick. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus already had been dead and buried for four days. Verse 19 says, “Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them in the loss of their brother.”

Jesus Himself alluded to the compassionate aspect of God’s character that comforts those who mourn when He applied the Messianic passage in Isaiah 61 to Himself, proclaiming, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ... to heal the broken-hearted” (Luke 4:18 kjv). On another occasion, when He spoke to His disciples during the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). The meaning is likewise twofold and does not preclude the proclamation that those who mourn over the loss of loved ones will be comforted.

Indeed, the apostle Paul pointed out to us this same aspect of God’s character when he called God “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” in 2 Corinthians 1:3. In the next verse, Paul went further and said that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble.” The dynamics of how this works out in practice then become clear: because Jesus has come, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; for after His death and resurrection, the body of Christ becomes the channel through which God will comfort those who are in need of comfort.

In Romans 12:15, Paul even went so far as to issue a direct command from God to comfort those who are in need of comfort. He exhorts us to “mourn with those who mourn.” The King James Version puts this as “weep with those who weep.” The Greek word for mourn or weep is klaio, meaning to wail aloud. God expected that the body of Christ will have so much compassion for and empathy with those who are grieving over a loss that we will go to the extent of wailing aloud with them in their sorrow!

In fact, Paul repeated the clarion call from God to reach out to those in need of comfort in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (kjv). He stated, “Wherefore comfort one another.” And in almost the next breath, in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, he said, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together.” It is almost a resonance of God’s call in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort my people.”

Another apostle, James, made this call more explicit when he wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27 kjv). To paraphrase this in reverse, if we are not committed to visiting grieving widows and the fatherless and bringing relief to them in their time of distress, our faith in God is neither genuine nor sincere.

We see in the Bible that in accordance with God’s instructions, the early church continued to take care of widows. First Timothy 5:16 reads, “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.” In other words, it was the practice of the churches in the early days to help the widows according to God’s command, but due to their limited resources, priority was to be given to the more needy ones.

To Continue Reading

The first book excerpt in the series:

The TIME Approach to Grief Support (BOOK EXCERPT, PT 1)

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