Mourning is a prominent theme throughout the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, we see examples of godly men and women mourning in response to death, disaster, sin, and divine judgment. As Christians seeking to understand and apply God’s Word, it’s important that we grasp the biblical meaning of mourning.
To “mourn” means to express or feel grief, sorrow, or lamentation. Mourning is an outward manifestation of inner sadness and pain over some loss or calamity. Throughout Scripture, mourning is depicted as an appropriate and godly response in many circumstances.
- Mourning is grieving over death, disaster, sin, or judgment
- It’s an external expression of inner sadness and pain
- Mourning is a frequent and important theme in the Bible
- Godly men and women mourn righteously in response to loss and sin
- Mourning symbolizes repentance and a heart that takes sin seriously
In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore what the Bible says about mourning by looking at key passages and examples. We will examine the godly purposes and motivations for mourning, along with instructions and promises for those who mourn. Our goal is to gain greater insight into the biblical meaning of mourning and how it applies to us as 21st century Christians.
Mourning for the Dead
Death entered the world because of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5:12). As a result, one of the primary reasons God’s people mourn in the Bible is in response to the death of a loved one. We see this vividly displayed at the death of beloved figures like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and others.
In Genesis 23:2, Abraham mourned the death of Sarah: “So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” Abraham loved Sarah and grieved deeply at her passing. His mourning demonstrates the profound sense of loss that comes with losing someone precious.
When Jacob died, Joseph and his brothers mourned intensely: “Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him, and kissed him” (Gen. 50:1). The depth of their sorrow at Jacob’s death reflected their love and honor for their father. Mourning in this case expressed gratitude and devotion.
In 2 Samuel 1, King David and his men mourned the deaths of Saul and Jonathan: “Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son…” (vv. 11-12). David mourned even his enemy Saul’s death because he respected him as the Lord’s anointed. His mourning displayed reverence for God’s sovereign purposes.
Even Jesus mourned at the tomb of Lazarus, showing that mourning at death is appropriate: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He felt sorrow at the ravaging effects of sin and death in the world. His mourning reflected godly compassion.
As Christians, mourning at death reminds us that death is an unnatural intrusion because of sin, and that our hope is in Christ’s redemption and resurrection victory. Mourning also honors the deceased and expresses gratitude for their life.
Mourning for Disaster and Judgment
In addition to mourning death, Scripture records many examples of mourning in response to disaster, calamity, and divine judgment. Often this mourning symbolizes grief over sin and crying out to God for mercy.
In Genesis 19:14, Lot mournfully urged his sons-in-law to escape Sodom and Gomorrah’s impending destruction: “Up! Get out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city!’ But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking.” Lot grieved at the coming catastrophe and the lost opportunity for his family to be saved. His mourning revealed a heartbroken yearning for repentance and righteousness.
After losing his children and property, Job “arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:20-22). Job’s mourning and repentance showed his humility and respect for the Lord’s sovereign purposes.
Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because he lamented over Israel’s apostasy, coming exile, and Jerusalem’s fall. Scripture records his mournful prayers and pleas with the rebellious nation to turn back to God (see Jer. 9:1, 10:19-22). His mourning reveals the pain of a righteous man burdened over rampant sin dishonoring God.
Likewise, Jesus mourned and wept over Jerusalem, grieving their lost spiritual opportunity: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37). Christ mourned Israel’s rejection of the kingdom and coming desolation.
As Christians, godly mourning reminds us of the sober reality of God’s righteous judgment against sin, motivates intercession for the lost, and promotes humble repentance and reliance on God’s mercy in dire circumstances.
Mourning for Sin
Mourning is frequently linked to repentance and godly sorrow over sin throughout Scripture. Ezra provides a potent example:
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven…Then Shecaniah…said to me, “We have been unfaithful to our God… Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them…Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” Then Ezra arose…and confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. (Ezra 10:6-9)
Ezra’s acute mourning before God reflected true remorse over the people’s sin. His sincerity prompted thorough national repentance and reformation.
After his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, David repented in mourning, pleading with God: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping…For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 6:6, 51:3). David’s contrite mourning represented a broken, humility, and hunger for renewed fellowship with God.
In response to Peter’s denials, “He went out and wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:75). Peter’s mournful weeping signaled godly sorrow and repentance.
For Christians, mourning over sin expresses true contrition and humility. It acknowledges the seriousness of sin and revulsion towards grieving God’s heart. Our mourning over sin fuels deeper levels of repentance.
Beatitudes on Mourning
Christ’s beatitudes in Matthew 5 provide rich instruction on biblical mourning:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4)
This seems counterintuitive; why would mourners be blessed? The implication is that Christ is specifically referring to those mourning righteously – grieving over sin, evil, and the things that grieve God’s heart. Those with hearts aligned to God’s will mourn over fallen humanity’s rebellion and the defamation of God’s glory. They mourn in empathetic harmony with the Spirit, who intercedes “with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
Thus, Christ is pronouncing blessing on those who mourn for godly reasons and from a spiritual perspective. They will be comforted, encouraged, and inherit the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3-9). As John Piper explains, “godly grief is good grief. And because godly grief is good, it will yield the fruit of comfort sooner or later.” This mourning produces greater joy and hope in Christ.
As Evangelical Christians who take sin seriously, we must cultivate hearts that mourn over evil and weep with Jesus in godly grief over humanity’s rebellion. Our mourning gives testimony to sin’s exceedingly sinful nature and the cost of Calvary’s cross to redeem us. We must also weep in intercession, like Jesus looking upon Jerusalem. Our tears honor Christ’s agony over the lost and motivate urgent evangelism, knowing that multitudes face eternal torment.
Biblical Instructions for Mourners
In addition to depicting many examples of righteous mourners, Scripture provides practical instructions for mourning well. Ecclesiastes 7:2 teaches that mourning over death is better than callous apathy: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Funerals remind us of life’s brevity and prompt us to number our days wisely (Ps. 90:12), living for eternal purposes.
While mourning, as part of sorrowing yet rejoicing: “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). The coexistence of grief and joy displays hope and trust in God’s redemptive purposes, even amid suffering.
Additionally, we must take care to avoid mourning that spirals into despair or self-pity: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:15, 21). Mourning should produce greater reliance on God, not bitterness towards Him.
Finally, mourning should draw us to prayer and worship: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13). God comforts and sustains mourners who humbly cast their cares on Him through prayer and praise.
Promises for Those Who Mourn
For Christians mourning righteously, Scripture gives tremendous promises of God’s comfort, healing, and hope.
Isaiah 61 proclaims the messianic mission of Christ to heal the brokenhearted:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Jesus declared this Scripture fulfilled in Himself (Luke 4:18-21). Through His redemptive work, Christ lifts mourners from despair to joy, exchanging ashes for crowns, sorrow for praise, and faintness for righteousness.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ repeats this promise: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). Through the Spirit, He consoles and heals the brokenhearted.
The apostle Paul echoes Christ’s promise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). For the mourning believer, God promises to be the God of all comfort who strengthens us to comfort others.
Even in the fallen world, mourning over evil and sin can become a catalyst for godly change. Our mourning gives voice to the Spirit’s intercession, being the aroma of Christ in a dying culture (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Though sorrow lasts for the night, joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5). One day soon, Christ will wipe away every tear and abolish death forever (Rev. 21:4). Until then, may we mourn righteously and spread the comfort we’ve received in Jesus.
Mourning is a deeply important biblical theme that we as Christians must understand and exemplify. Throughout Scripture, godly men and women mourn in response to death, disaster, sin, and divine judgment. Their mourning flows from hearts aligned with God and His purposes in redemption.
As followers of Christ, we mourn over the ravaging effects of evil in the world, intercede in godly grief over humanity’s lostness, and allow our hearts to break in true contrition for our own sin. Our mourning gives sobering testimony to the exceeding sinfulness of sin and motivates urgent evangelism and ministry to a dying world.
The Bible provides rich promises of God’s comfort, healing, strength, and joy for those who mourn with a righteous, kingdom perspective. Even in the fallen world, our godly mourning serves redemptive purposes and bears testimony of greater hope in Christ. Let us heed Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”