Grief and Faith: Can They Coexist?

Julie is a “God” person who once thought she had a deep faith. When her 10-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, naturally, deep grief and sorrow followed and questions concerning God began to dominate. She felt guilty that she had such questions and questioned not only God but also her faith. “Something is wrong with my faith,” she cried in my office that day. “If I had a stronger faith, I wouldn’t feel this way.” 

Julie’s struggle with her grief and her faith are common. We hear these stories often. Those who are grieving might not grieve as others think they should or even how they themselves think they should. Some people do not want to go back to attending their religious services. Some find praying almost impossible. After all, they prayed for God to protect their loved one, prayed for God to heal them, had thousands of others praying, but yet their loved one still died.  

Others might be experiencing a non-death loss. Their child is addicted to drugs, and they have prayed thousands of prayers for them yet the addiction continues. Or, their marriage is in shambles, but they prayed for a Godly spouse for years and for a marriage that would honor God. They also have prayed for their spouse to love them again, to stop the affair, or to love their spouse again. Yet the marriage falls apart anyway. 

Many develop resentment toward God, and at times they doubt whether God exists or not. And if He does, does He really care about their problems? Then guilt floods them. “How can I have these bad thoughts about God?” they may ask. They might assume their faith is weak or non-existent. 

Religious people do not help at times such as these. Attempts to “fix” the griever by inviting the griever to come back to their place of worship or small group usually do not help. In fact, these efforts can reinforce the belief that there is something wrong with the griever. It may look like someone lost their husband and was back in their religious service the next week after the funeral. During the service, the minister or other religious leader might say something like, “We extend our sympathy to Mary in the loss of her husband John this week. Her faith is remarkable, as she is back with us already. We love you Mary, and your example of great faith inspires us all.” 

While these words are kind and thoughtful, they can be damaging to someone who experienced loss, and it took them a year to come back to their place of worship or to someone who was angry at God and didn’t want to come back at all. These words might reinforce to those people that something is wrong with their faith and that they are weak in faith.  

We have, for the most part, been taught that strong faith people do not complain and do not have bad thoughts about God and certainly do not stop attending services regularly. 

This thinking can lead people to stuff their feelings and think something is wrong with their faith. But a closer look at Scripture reveals that it is alright to grieve, to cry out to God, and to ask God those “Why?” questions. 

By far, the largest category of psalms are those commonly called “lament psalms.” Some have estimated that out of 150 psalms in the Bible, nearly one-half of them could be psalms of lament. These are also known as psalms of protest or complaint.  

The main point is that questions concerning God and the “fairness” of life are natural and not “unspiritual,” even when someone else has a deeper loss than you may have experienced. 

D.A. Carson says, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

Take a look at Jacob in Scripture. 

Psalm 13:1-2 also comes to mind: “…How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” 

Our encouragement for you is to accept deep grief as part of your faith journey. Though your faith might indeed feel weak and even non-existent at times, these feelings do not mean there is something wrong with you or your faith. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel, whatever that is. 

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