Is it okay for Christians to be sad?

by Luke Wayne
7/30/16

It is good and healthy for a Christian to feel sad when sad things happen. When we face sickness and hardships, when loved ones die, when people we know are unrepentant of sin and are presently bound for hell if they do not turn to God in Christ, in all of these things there is a biblical and proper place for sorrow. The difference for a Christian is not the absence of sorrow but rather the source of our comfort and that our mourning will ultimately bring forth greater hope in our Lord and His promises.

Some Christians question whether it is okay for a true believer to be sad. After all, doesn't the Bible say:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).

and:

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus," (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Yes, it certainly does. And these things are quite true! But the biblical reality is not that we rejoice instead of sorrow, but rather that we rejoice in the midst of sorrow. Consider our Lord Himself. Isaiah prophesied of Him:

"He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," (Isaiah 53:3b).

This, of course, is in large part due to the suffering of the cross when:

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed," (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Yet the scripture shows us that his acquaintance with sadness went beyond this. At the grave of Lazarus we are told:

"Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled," (John 11:33).

and:

"Jesus wept," (John 11:35).

As Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and foretold her coming destruction, we are told that:

"Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it," (Luke 19:41).

So Jesus grieved. He mourned. He wept. Obviously, then, these things are not sins for:

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin," (Hebrews 4:15)

And Jesus is a great model to us in this, for His supreme sorrow and suffering was always intermingled with the ultimate joy of God's purpose in it all:

"fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God," (Hebrews 12:2).

Even when Jesus corrected grieving in others at the graveside of Jairus' daughter, it was not because grieving for the dead was wrong. He was comforting them with the truths that He was going to raise her up and that she was not, in fact, permanently dead:

"Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, 'Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping,'" (Luke 8:52).

Elsewhere Jesus plainly taught that mourning and grieving are proper in this sin sick world, saying things like:

"Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted," (Matthew 5:4).

"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh," (Luke 6:21b)

"Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep," (Luke 6:25b).

Our Lord's teaching is clear throughout the New Testament. This side of eternity there will be suffering, sickness, persecution, injustice, slander, death, and loss. The righteous will suffer these things, and we will also grieve on behalf of others who are suffering them. Blessed, in fact, is the mourner who is suffering affliction unjustly or bearing the burdens of others. Woe to the one who lives comfortably in this life, never standing firmly enough on the truth to face persecution and never caring enough for others to share in their suffering. As Paul would write:

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep," (Romans 12:15).

It is important to note that the context in Romans 12 at this point has to do with our relationship with other believers. The assumption is that sometimes believers will be mourning, and when they do we are not to correct or rebuke them, we are to mourn with them. In this sin sick world, there are things for which sadness is appropriate. Christians are not to run from that. Christians are to share in that together.

When the Ephesian elders knew that Paul was leaving for the last time and that they would not see him again in this life, we are told that:

"Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship," (Acts 20:37-38).

They knew that they would all be together again in the resurrection to come, but there was still a personal loss now, and sadness at this separation was appropriate. Likewise, when Stephen had died, we are told that:

"Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him," (Acts 8:2)

Again, we see Christians grieving the death of a man whom they know is in a better place and whom they know they will see again. It is not wrong. Grieving death is normal and proper. Even Paul himself, in the very same letter that he wrote "rejoice in the Lord always," also wrote about his Christian brother who had almost died of illness:

"For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow," (Philippians 2:27).

He also wrote in this same letter regarding those who oppose the gospel:

"For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ," (Philippians 3:18).

Paul did not seem to find sorrow over the death of a loved one or grief at the sin and persecution of others as a contradiction to his admonition to "rejoice in the Lord always." Indeed, Paul was also a man very acquainted with sorrow:

"I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced," (2 Corinthians 12:21b).

"I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh," (Romans 9:1-3).

"You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews," (Acts 20:18-19).

Paul makes clear to the Church of Corinth that such godly sorrow is indeed evidence of our love:

"For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you," (2 Corinthians 2:4).

We should also note that when we ourselves fall into sin, we are biblically commanded to grieve and mourn. This would be unthinkable if grieving or mourning were themselves sinful or improper:

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up," (James 4:8-10).

Much more could be said, but this is hopefully sufficient to demonstrate that sadness in response to truly sad things is not only permissible, it is expected of the Christian. It is an outflow of our love of others, both in that we hurt when they hurt and also in that we hurt when we lose them. It is a righteous response to sin, both in that we experience repentant grief over our own sin and also that we grieve compassionately over the sins of others, longing for them to turn from their sin and receive salvation. Sorrow and lament have a very important place in the godly and loving life of any disciple of Christ.

That said, there is still joy in it all. We rejoice that the suffering is temporary and that our hope is eternal and far greater than any hardship or loss we face now:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us," (Romans 8:18)

We rejoice also that God has a purpose in any suffering that He allows. Our pain is a part of the process of conforming us to the image of Christ and fulfilling God's ultimate purpose for good:

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing," (James 1:2-4).

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose," (Romans 8:28)

We rejoice that Christ will one day take our sadness and grief away forever. He will right every wrong and make all things new:

"He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken," (Isaiah 25:8).

"and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away," (Revelation 21:4).

That we rejoice in trials does not mean that we don't hurt. If we didn't hurt then they would not be trials! It means that, even though we hurt, even our grief itself ultimately turns our heart to praise. The Psalms are filled with such sorrowful yet hopeful praise which is the very image of Christian joy in sadness. Take, as one example, David's words in Psalm 6: 

"I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries. Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication, The Lord receives my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed," (Psalm 6:6-10).

David is sad. He is afflicted. He is hurting, mourning, and ruining all of his furniture with his tears. But he also believes that God will deliver. He trusts that, in the end, God will come through. It doesn't take away his tears, but it does produce in him lofty praises and rejoicing in God. For the Christian, suffering leads to joy to drawing our mind to the promises of God and forcing us to hope:

"We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us," (Romans 5:3-5).

So grieve that which is sad and worth grieving. Weep when weeping is due. Mourn your pain and loss, dear brothers and sisters, but in the midst of it remember this: dare to hope! Let lament be a path to peace before God as we discover in our anguish just how much we need His promises to be true, and therefore how joyful we can be that they are true.