More and more, the world around us feels unsafe. In uncertain times, we must take the time to consider what God will have us do. Proposing solutions, healing the sick, and advocating for justice are crucial. But the Bible also tells us to do something we often neglect: we must mourn with those who mourn.
What exactly does it mean to mourn with those who mourn?
Where Does the Bible Say “Mourn with Those Who Mourn”?
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12 starts with, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” and builds on Romans 9-11. In those chapters, Paul explains, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Romans 9:2) because not all Israelites believe the Messiah has come. However, Paul states “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2). He calls his audience—the church in Rome, Gentiles who didn’t grow up in Judaism—wild olive branches grafted into God’s olive tree (Romans 11:17-21). This merciful, mysterious change, the Gentiles entering into the kingdom of God once reserved for the Jews, shows us something important. It shows “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).
Having established that ultimately his readers are, like all Christians, saved by God’s mercy and grace, Paul uses this foundation to teach that Christians must mourn with those who mourn. His argument—first explaining God’s grace, then talking about how all Christians should live—teaches us something important about how we mourn with those who mourn.
What Is the Context of “Mourn With Those Who Mourn”?
The context (the chapters leading up to Romans 12:15, the other instructions in Romans 12) teaches us several important things about Paul’s instructions to mourn with those who mourn. Particularly, the context teaches the following:
1. The Bible tells us it’s okay to mourn. Too often, we see mourning and lament as morbid. However, the Bible clarifies that there is a time and place for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and there are times to grieve. Jeremiah mourned the state of his nation. David, the man after God’s own heart, mourned the deaths of his sons (including one who tried to kill him). Christian therapist Andrew J. Bauman has highlighted how mourning is essential to healing. Bottling things up will only distract us from facing our pain. Looking for solutions when we haven’t processed the pain will only cloud our judgment. We must take time to mourn what has been lost.
2. Mourning and worship go together. The verse pairs rejoicing with those who rejoice with mourning with those who mourn. We are used to thinking of worship and mourning as unrelated. The fact is we need both. Christian therapist Dan B. Allender highlights how crying out to God becomes worship in the Psalms. We mustn’t avoid mourning or treat it as unhealthy, but we mustn’t forget to rejoice.
3. Mourning with others is a way we show love. We may be tempted to leave people alone in their mourning period. Certainly, there are things we shouldn’t say to someone mourning—numerous Christian memoirists have said the hardest part of dark times is how others won’t have real conversations with them, but they keep making flippant, “this will be over soon,” comments. Job’s three friends did well when they sat with him in the ashes (Job 2:13), but their advice proved flippant and cruel. There are instances when trying to cheer someone else up helps. Usually, though, the first step is to mourn with someone—to sit with them in the ashes. In doing so, we show them that they are not alone.
4. Mourning, like all love, must be based on humility. Paul tells his listeners that since only God’s merciful, mysterious plan saved them, therefore (Romans 12:1) they must live their lives as holy sacrifices and practice love. Christians have done nothing to deserve salvation. All is God’s grace. We all live under his mysterious plans. Therefore, we shouldn’t be arrogant and deny others love.
5. We do not just mourn with other Christians. Paul addresses his letter to Christians in Rome, but Romans 12 doesn’t just address how they should love other Christians. He starts the chapter by telling them to live in the world but not of it (Romans 12:1-2). His instructions about love include discussions about how to treat their persecutors (Romans 12:17). We will not mourn with non-Christians the way we would with fellow believers—“Christianese” terms that fellow believers would understand won’t make sense to non-believers. However, when we do mourn with non-believers, we love them.
6. Mourning, like all love, will be costly. Paul puts his instructions to mourn with those who mourn in a passage where all the loving actions take work. No one wants to bless those who curse them. No one likes hanging out with those who have lowly positions. All loving actions will extend us and push us to become more. Like everything else we do for God, we will find that ultimately the Holy Spirit provides the strength to do it.
How Do We Mourn with Those Who Mourn?
Since different people mourn in different ways, there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to mourning with those who mourn. Instead, there are basic principles and cautions we should all follow:
1. Consider your history. How well we know someone will impact how much we can mourn with them. Ask yourself whether you know the mourner well enough for them to trust you. If you don’t know them well, offer help but be aware you probably won’t be the primary person mourning with them. If you know them well enough, think about how they react to offers of help. Do they respond well to verbal requests? Do they respond better if someone calls them, asks whether they’d like to talk, and eases into the discussion? Do they process things better while doing an activity? These factors will affect how you mourn with them.
2. Pray for wisdom. Mourning is a complicated process. You don’t know how long mourning with someone will take. You don’t know how much you can help them mourn—some grief never clearly stops, which means you’re there to mourn with them for a season. Every step of the way, you will need God’s wisdom to face these struggles. Pray for wisdom, grace, and for God to accomplish good in unexpected ways.
3. Communicate that they’re safe with you. Mourning is not easy for anyone. Frequently, it brings up regrets about things that could have gone differently. It may even take someone back to wounds they didn’t realize were still raw—for example, a past death they didn’t mourn. Make it clear that they can safely share their pain with you and that you won’t share their secrets with others. Be empathetic, someone who will walk alongside them in this difficult time.
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G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,200 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
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