Is all grief sin?

Question
Let the dead bury their dead? So, is grief sin?
Answer

Thanks for this important question.

There is such a thing as "good grief" (Eccl. 3:1, 4; Rom. 12:15, etc.). "Good grief" is different than other forms of grief, as it contains genuine godly hope (1 Thess. 4:13) and recognizes and has faith in the one living and true God above all else; the One comforts us in all our troubles (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Jesus was a man of sorrows too and was acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). He wept at Lazarus' grave (John 11:35). He also looked upon Jerusalem and wept because of their unbelief (Luke 19:41). So, all grief is not sin.

Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead," in response to a person who didn't desire to immediately obey the command of "Follow Me" (Matt. 8:18-22; Luke 9:59-60). Jesus' statement addresses the reality that following Him takes precedence over all other loyalties. He is expounding upon the immediacy and cost of genuine discipleship. True disciples must accept that they are strangers and exiles in this present world (Heb. 11:13-16), and though one is to honor one's parents (Exod. 20:12), the call of Christ takes precedence over everything else. Chrysostom stated that Jesus' words only signify "that nothing ought to be to us more urgent than the affairs of the kingdom of heaven" (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint, Matthew 27.3).

Indeed, this person was also speaking of quite a period of time and of obeying ritualism over faith (Heb. 11:6; cf. Gal. 4:10-11). In Judaism, after a body was placed in a grave, the family intensely mourned for seven days; followed by another 30-day period of mourning, called sheloshim, (Hebrew, meaning "thirty"). But, the entire mourning period was not over until the body's decomposition was complete; approximately a year later. The ritualistic process in Judaism was as follows:

A. Aninut - from death to burial.

B. Shivah - the first seven days of mourning.

C. Sheloshim - the first thirty days from the day of burial, including the Shivah.

D. Yud-bet chodesh - referring the twelve Hebrew months following the day of death, the mourning period for a parent.

E. Yahrzeit - the anniversary date of the death, according to the Jewish calendar.

Therefore, this person could be viewed as more concerned about ritual, than faith in the living God. He desired to continue to engage in the sufferings of his family (something worthy), over the sufferings of Christ - something more worthy (1 Pet. 4:13; cf. Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:10; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 2:21). He failed to understand that genuine faith in Christ, means that Jesus is first in everything.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).