Slowly, I’ve been reading Facing Grief by the Puritan, John Flavel. Chapter 4, When Sorrow Becomes Sinful, was especially convicting and helpful, as I reflected back upon a time in which I allowed sorrow to overtake me and lead me to sin in other ways. In this chapter, Flavel explains how sorrow becomes sinful when it is excessive.
Grief becomes sinful when…
It causes us to forget, or lose sight of, other blessings and mercies. “Our tears for our lost enjoyments so blind our eyes that we cannot see the many other mercies which yet remain; we take so much notice of what is gone that we take little or no notice of what is left.” And, “whatever God takes, be still thankful for what he leaves.”
It engulfs our hearts to such an extent that we grieve not for the sins which plague the church. “How few suffer either domestic comforts to be swallowed up in the church’s troubles, or their domestic troubles to be swallowed up by the church’s mercies.”
It distracts us from our duties and we lose sight of heaven. “When our hearts should be in heaven with our Christ, they are in the grave with our dead…..Must God then lose his delight in your fellowship, because you have lost yours in the creature?”
It oppresses our body so as to endanger our very life. “‘Heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop’, says Solomon (Prov. 12:25). The stoutest body must stoop under heart-pressures.”
It sours our spirit with discontentment or anger against God. “Whatever God does with us or ours, still we should maintain good thoughts of him….To have lovely and well-pleased thoughts of God, even when he smites us in our nearest and dearest comforts, argues plainly that we love him for himself, and not for his gifts only.”
It moves us to take strange pleasure in sadness. “Strange it is that we should find some kind of pleasure in rousing our sorrows.”
It deafens our ears to seasoned words of counsel and comfort. “I have known some exceedingly quick and ingenious, even above the rate of their common parts and abilities, in inventing shifts and framing objections to turn off comfort from themselves, as if they had been hired to plead against their own interests.”
What words of exhortation these are for us! Let us grieve, since the emotion of sorrow is a gift from God. But let us not grieve like people who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13), for we, of all people on the earth, to fuel our minds and hearts with hope.
Another resource: Comfort the Grieving