Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for December 6

By Will Kynes, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University

Walking in Grief

Psalm 116:1–9, 15–17

We are emotional beings. Scripture does not ignore this vital human characteristic but addresses it directly, as it both reflects our emotional responses to this broken and beautiful world and seeks to shape those emotions toward God’s glory and our good. The Psalms are a prime example.

John Calvin, who called the Psalms, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul,” observed, “There is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn … all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”

As the psalmists express their emotions to God, he argued, they draw us to examine ourselves, revealing both our spiritual infirmities and vices, and purging hypocrisy from our hearts.

The Christmas season has a particular emotional power. Repeating annual traditions to the soundtrack of favorite Christmas songs brings waves of nostalgia, which leave many awash in joy. But for those who have experienced the loss or death of a loved one, those memories may bring a torrent of grief. This grief is natural; it reflects the love we have for what was lost.

Even so, grief can be devastating when we’re unable to move beyond it. However, when balanced with hope and trust in God, grief can be healthy. In psalms like Psalm 116, we see the psalmists express their grief to God. Reading their words, seeing how they mirror our emotions, we learn to see life, loss and even death from God’s perspective, and are able to move forward in His mercy and love.

Call to God when you are in sorrow. (1–4)

Significantly, the psalmist begins by proclaiming his love for the Lord. This love doesn’t require him to accept his grief without struggle. Rather, the relationship he has with the Lord grounds his honest expression of his pain, as well as his gratitude for divine deliverance.

When he called, “Lord, save me!” the Lord answered and delivered him. But, from what? Like most of the psalms, the affliction is only vaguely described. Even the description we receive is difficult to understand. The NIV translates verse 3 as the “anguish of the grave,” while the CSB offers the more literal “torments of Sheol” and the KJV the somewhat anachronistic “pains of hell.”

The psalmist clearly fears for his life and is overwhelmed by distress and sorrow. One of the strengths of the Psalms is this unspecified affliction, enabling us to apply their words to our situation whatever it might be and encouraging us similarly to cry out to God in our sorrow.

Rest in God, who is compassionate toward us. (5–9)

The tone of this psalm changes abruptly, as the psalmist follows his cry for help with a reminder of the character of the God to whom he cries. The Lord is gracious, righteous, full of compassion and a protector, even of the simple and lowly. Knowing who God is and remembering what He has done for us in the past will enable us to find rest in Him when we face grief in the present.

Trust in God, who cares for us in our darkest hour. (15–17)

Having reflected on how God has heard his cry, at the end of the psalm, the psalmist expresses his commitment to continue to call on the Lord in tribulation. He knows God cares for him. The death of His servants is “precious” to the Lord, not because God takes pleasure in it but because it is so costly to Him. Because the psalmist trusted in God, he declared to the Lord his grief (v. 10), and because God cares for him, he finds hope to endure it.

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