After Saul’s kingship seriously goes down the drain, the Lord rejects Saul as king over Israel. You can read the story in 1 Samuel 15. At the end of this story, Samuel grieves over Saul. In fact, Samuel’s grief or mourning is noted twice – once in 1 Samuel 15:35 and also 1 Samuel 16:1. At one point Yahweh gives Samuel a sort of rebuke: “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?” (NIV). From one angle it seems as if God is telling Samuel that he should not mourn so much because God is carrying out his plan.
That leads to another similar note in Scripture where we’re told to moderate our mourning. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 we learn that since the resurrection is true, believers must not grieve in a hopeless way as unbelievers grieve. We might also think about the times in Scripture where God’s people are told to stop weeping. There’s a theme in Scripture that Christians must not grieve excessively or without moderation. Some grief is fine, of course, but there comes a point when grief goes too far and becomes sinful.
In his book, Facing Grief, John Flavel notes seven ways when grief and sorrow become sinful. I’ll list them below – I’ve edited these points for length and clarity.
Sorrow becomes sinful and excessive when…
- …it causes us to slight and despise all our other mercies and enjoyments as small things in comparison with what we have lost. Our tears for something we’ve lost blind our eyes so we can’t see the mercies that remain. …Whatever God takes, be still thankful for what he leaves.
- …it so engulfs our hearts that we selfishly ignore other Christians’ hardships, miseries, and afflictions. We focus on our own grief so much that we fail to mourn with those who mourn.
- …it diverts or distracts us from our God-given duties. Grief is sinful when it causes us to neglect prayer, thoughts about God, and fellowship with him.
- …it causes us to harm ourselves and make us unfit for service. When grief causes us to refuse rest, refreshment, sleep, food, and other things necssary for our health, it is sinful.
- …it makes us discontent with God’s plan and makes us start to doubt him and think wickedly of his works and providences.
- …it makes us constantly rehearse the source of grief and therefore scratches the wounds of sorrow open again and again and again.
- …it causes us to ignore and disregard godly words of counsel and comfort. It is sinful if you do not allow comforting words to help ease your grief and sorrow.
Flavel says more about these seven ways that grief can go too far and become sinful; I’ve edited them quite a bit. You can find it in full in chapter 4 of Flavel’s book, Facing Grief.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015