I didn’t fully understand the depths of grief until the year my family lost two sisters and a brother within eight months. My brother-in-law lost a five-year battle with cancer, my sister died an agonizing death from a toxic clash of prescribed medications, and my sister-in-law died suddenly from a triple brain aneurysm. Before 2010 I had a head knowledge of death, but afterward, I’d been baptized by fire. As one family member eloquently described, “I felt like my body had been cut open and all my happiness pulled out.”
God comforted us through those horrible days in many different ways. Friends made hospital visits and attended funerals. Distant relatives emailed sweet expressions of sympathy. Fellow church members sent cards and casseroles. Our greatest source of comfort, however, was the Bible verses we read in the days surrounding our loved ones’ deaths. Here are 10 verses we found especially meaningful.
1. “He (Jesus) was… a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV)
This verse was meaningful to me because it reminded me that while no one on earth could understand my unique pain, Jesus could. Fully, God and fully man, Jesus experienced the depths of human emotion during his time on earth so he could identify with our grief. Combined with John 11:35, where Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, this verse gave me unshakeable proof that God was not only aware of my grief but grieved with me.
2. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle…”
“… You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8 NLT)
I don’t understand the physiology of tears, but I know I shed a lot during my early days of grieving. I’d pick up the phone to call my sister-in-law and remember she was gone. I’d see a man with a Kenny Rogers beard like my brother-in-law and feel tears form. The empty chairs around our holiday table still makes me cry.
But even if I cried a river, Psalm 56:8 told me God would collect every one of my tears. The ones I blinked back. The ones I cried silently. The ones that soaked my pillow in the middle of the night. Not a single tear escaped his notice. Each one was precious to him because I was precious to him.
3. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
“… I will fear no evil; For You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV)
This beloved verse reminds me that death is only a shadow. It passes over for a moment, but it cannot permanently hurt the believer. Eighteenth-century preacher Dwight L. Moody described it this way, “The valley of the shadow of death holds no darkness for the child of God. There must be light, else there could be no shadow. Jesus is the light. He has overcome death.”
4. “I go to prepare a place for you…”
“… If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2b-3 NIV)
Many believe death is the end of life, but Christians know it is the portal to eternal life. When Christ died on the cross and rose again, he went on ahead to prepare a place for us. I take great comfort in knowing my loved ones who are believers in Jesus are with him in a real place called heaven. Instead of mourning because I’ll never see them again, I can look forward to spending eternity with them in the presence of Jesus.
5. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death…”
“… so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV)
The hope of the resurrection is sometimes the only thing that keeps us from being utterly consumed by grief. As the apostle, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If we have set our hopes on the Messiah in this life only, we deserve more pity than any other people.” But we haven’t. The believer’s hope reaches far beyond our mortal lives. Christ didn’t come simply to give us a better life here on earth. He died and rose again to prove there is a resurrection for everyone who believes in him. Because of this, we can be hope-filled, even in our sorrow.
6. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body…”
“… and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV)
This verse, paired with the New Testament story of Jesus’ last hours on the cross, reassures me that as soon as my loved ones took their last breaths on earth, they took their first breaths in heaven. I don’t have to wonder if they’re languishing in some in-between holding place hoping to one day see Jesus. Like Christ told the thief on the cross when he placed his faith in him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NIV).
A beloved pastor once described the death as walking from one room into the next. The moment my loved ones stepped out of the room called earth, they stepped into the room called heaven. And Jesus was waiting for them there.
7. “Precious in the sight of the Lord…”
“… is the death of his faithful servants.” (Psalm 116:15 NIV)
I discovered this powerful verse tucked in the middle of the book of Psalms in the days after my sister-in-law’s death. Now I write it in almost every sympathy card I send. Through it God says, Your loved one’s death is of infinite value to me. I see every detail. I am present in every agonizing moment. She’s not just one of the thousands of souls entering eternity today; her passage is significant because it brings her home to Me.
8. “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption…”
“… and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NIV)
Following a stirring defense of Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Paul ends the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians with these triumphant words. It is the rallying cry for all believers. Like David the shepherd boy vanquished Goliath, it is a first-century, in-your-face celebration, saying to death, “Take that, arch enemy. Our conqueror has defeated you. He has trodden you in the dust, cut off your head, and waved it in victory. You may have wounded us, but ultimately, we win!”
9. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes…”
“… There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4-5 NIV)
The thought of Jesus wiping away my tears once and for all is a precious thought. Think of a world where sorrow is banished and sickness, pain, and death have no home. Picture a place where sin’s curse has been removed, and we’ll never again have to experience the agonizing pain of cancer, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease. No hospitals. No cancer centers. No funeral homes. Just health, joy, and peace.
10. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 NIV)
My pastor shared this verse with me during one of my darkest days. “Right now,” he said, “you feel like you’ll never be happy again, but you will. You may wonder if it’s okay if being happy somehow dishonors your loved one. Trust me, it doesn’t.”
He was right. In time, my family and I did smile again. Even in the midst of our grief. Sometimes we laughed through our tears at the silly things our loved ones had done or said. Other times we’d share a special memory or tell a story that made us feel close to them again. I discovered that there’s healing in tears, but there’s also healing in laughter. My pastor’s words gave me permission to experience them both in my journey through grief.
Lori Hatcher is a blogger, women’s ministry speaker, and author of the Christian Small Publisher’s 2016 Book of the Year, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. A Toastmasters International contest-winning speaker, Lori’s goal is to help busy women connect with God in the craziness of everyday life. She especially loves small children, soft animals, and chocolate. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@lorihatcher2) or Pinterest (Hungry for God).