In each person's lifetime, he will be forced to deal with grief in some form. Everyone will eventually experience losses in their lives. Sometimes, going through grief can become extremely difficult, and if the client becomes "stuck" in the process of grief, he could even resort to self-destructive behavior or suicide.
I believe that God directly gave me this model for grief therapy. I had been counseling a young Christian lady who was grieving a recent divorce. She was angry at God. Nothing I tried seemed to help. She was even hospitalized by her doctor for being suicidal. One day as she was leaving after an especially frustrating session, God spoke these words to my spirit: "You are just one of Job's helpers." Several times in past years, I had tried to make sense out of the book of Job with little success. When I finally recognized it as a model for grief therapy, everything fell into place. In the next session, we began a study of the book of Job; and eventually she completely recovery. Let me share what I learned.
1. Grief is the natural response to a significant loss. Job had everything, at least from a worldly viewpoint: Wife and children, wealth, honor, possessions, and good health. He lost it all, except for his wife who was also so devastated that she advised him to, "curse God and die." Grief is the natural response to all types of loses.
2. The grief response is intensified if the client has a wrong view about what is to be expected in life. Job believed that if he did his very best to do good, he should only experience blessings and should never experience any great losses or disasters in his life. However, I believe that Job secretly knew that life was not that simple. Unfortunately, even today, many Christians seem to believe that because they have accepted Christ; they should no longer experience problems, struggles, and losses in their lives.
3. A valid biblical view of life will assist the aggrieved person as he progresses through the grief process. From the glimpses into heaven in the book of Job, we learn that although God puts a hedge around his people, because we are not perfect, Satan can use our sins as an opening to attack us. Job believed that because of his good works he should be protected. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect enough for this to happen. It was Job’s fear that provide an opening for the Satan’s attack. Deep within, Job feared that he could never be good enough to deserve complete protection from all the loses in life.
Job 3:25 For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. 26 I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.
Fortunately, for us, our protection no longer depends on our performance or good works but on the finished work of Christ. To the degree we rely on Him we are protected. (For more on the principles of protection from catastrophe see my book, Faith Therapy)
4. Many grieving people feel hated and persecuted, and blame others for their loss. Job's name means “hated and persecuted.” He saw himself as a righteous, God-fearing man. He saw his possessions and family as blessings from God. If this is true, then how had he deserved all of the calamity that had come upon him? It was not fair. Therefore, God or someone other than himself must be responsible for what happened.
5. The aggrieved person usually feels that God "allowed it." Here, the Christian must understand that just because God is all-powerful does not necessarily make him responsible for everything. Just because I have the capability to stop a car accident in front of my house if it occurred at two am in the morning, does not mean that I am responsible to stay up every night and barricade my street in order to prevent one. God has given us dominion to over our world and has given us everything through faith that is necessary for our lives. According to James, God never does evil, nor is He even tempted to do evil. But in the middle of what we see as an unfair world, it is hard emotionally to see and believe this. Even if Job felt that God had allowed it, he did not "charge God foolishly." (Job 1:22)
6. The first phase of the grief experience is usually shock and denial. We are not emotionally prepared for what happens so we shut it out. It seems unreal. In order to show how he felt, Job tore his mantle (authority to control his life), shaved his head (his faith was shaken), and fell upon the ground (humbled himself). His denial of his emotions is captured in Job 1:21, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." This noble saying is typical of the initial minimization of the emotional pain that normally occurs at the time of a great loss.
7. It is Satan's purpose to mess up the client’s walk, his mind, make him feel worthless, and get him into a pity-party in the midst of the ashes of his life. Satan attacked Job in his feet (affected his walk) and his head (his thinking). Job scraped himself with broken pottery (feelings of worthlessness) and sat in the ashes (shameful remains of his life).
8. Friends and counselors seldom handle grief appropriately. Possibly this is because we have not really understood the emotional issues or struggle ourselves that come with the pain of loss. My experience is that most Christians do exactly the wrong things--minimize the situation and defend God.
9. Do not try to tell him that because God is correcting him for his sins that it is for his good. Job's three friends are examples of how not to counsel grief! Eliphaz means “God is dispenser.” He argued that calamity only comes from God as correction for, or as a consequence of our sins. We reap what we sow. He was a Temamite, which means south, soft or warm. According to Eliphaz, since Job needed to be corrected for his sins he should realize that what happened to him was for his good. Eliphaz concludes:
Job 5:17 Behold, happy [is] the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: 27 Lo this, we have searched it, so it [is]; hear it, and know thou [it] for thy good.
I do not believe that God brings this level of calamity on his children to "correct them." Except, in the most extreme circumstances, this would be considered abuse. Jesus made it clear that it is only through God’s grace (which is not based on works), that Christians are spared from catastrophe as they repent and trust in Him,
Lu 13:2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
10. Do not suggest that the tragedy is “punishment” for his sin. Bildad means “son of contention.” He was a Shuhite, which means “depression.” Trying to blame the client only increases his depression. He reasoned that since tragedy had happened—and only bad things happen to bad people—it was clear that Job must have committed some dire sin. This is an aggressive approach that tries to defend God, and it only leads to more contention. If the client has sinned or the tragedy is a direct consequence of his actions, he will eventually face this fact as his recovery progresses; but initially he will only defend himself when confronted. Since Jesus died for us; we are forgiven, not punished for our sins. If tragedy came as punishment for our sin it would happen to all of us, for we all sin. The disciples believed that tragedy was punishment for sin, but Jesus denied that this was true in the case of the man born blind from his birth. In this case, there was another reason, that God might use the tragedy to demonstrate his love for him. God is not the author of tragedies, but even turns what Satan authors, for the good of them that love Him and are willing to do things His way. (Rom 8:28)
Jo 9:1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
11. Do not tell him "to just get over it." Zophar means “hairy or worldly.” He is a Naamathite, which means “pleasantness.” He argued that since we all sin, bad things happen to all of us. In fact, Job has gotten less than what he deserved (Job 11:6), so why not just accept it, put it behind him, and go on. Job should quit complaining, accept his lot in life, and try harder next time. This is a fatalistic approach to life. It dooms the person to a life of fear concerning what might happen next. It also ignores the fact that going through the process of grief is essential for emotional recovery. If the client buries his grief, it will reappear at another time in another way.
12. We are to empathize with the client’s emotional pain. His friends wept, tore their mantles, and sprinkled dust (feelings of insignificance) upon their heads. They sat there for seven days (completeness) "for they saw that [his] grief was very great." (Job 2:12,13)
13. All clients have a certain amount of fear that some calamity will come upon them. The problem is that down deep, everyone knows that he is powerless over his circumstances and can never achieve total control of his life through his own actions. A person’s own goodness can never guarantee his safety. Only faith in God can. Job declares:
Job 3:25 For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. 26 I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.
14. The second phase of grief is anger at almost everyone and everything. Job cursed the day he was born, the fact that he was not stillborn, and life itself. He felt that death would be easier than enduring his grief. (Job 3:3-16)
15. The client is also many times angry with God. Job points this out in Chapter 6:14 “To him that is afflicted pity [should be shewed] from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty." Blaming God seems to be natural, because we do not want to take responsibility for what has happened, and because we feel that God could have prevented it. As already discussed, it is important to remember that there is a big difference between having the power to do something about a situation and being responsible to do it. God provided all we need for life and godliness through His promises and gave the responsibility to us for their use.
16. The next phase of grief is what some have called bargaining. Throughout these chapters Job is constantly trying to get God to "hear his case," and "bargain" with him. We see this in Chapter 13:
Job 13:20 Only do not two [things] unto me: then will I not hide myself from thee. 21 Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid. 21 Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me.
17. The next phase of grief is depression, which is the result of a loss of hope. In Job 7:6 he writes, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope."
18. Defending God is not helpful for the grieved person. It seems natural to us that when the client going through grief, complains to God, that it is our job to defend God. This is not the correct approach since these words are an expression of the anguish of the soul and spirit and are part of the healing process. God is able to adequately defend Himself. Job says,
Job 7:11 Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 13:7 Will ye speak wickedly for God? and talk deceitfully for him? 8 Will ye accept his person? will ye contend for God? 13 Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what [will]."
19. The client’s discussion with God is a means of trying to sort out his responsibility and bring order to his confusing world. Job states,
Job 13:18 Behold now, I have ordered [my] cause; I know that I shall be justified. 19 Who [is] he [that] will plead with me? for now, if I hold my tongue, I shall give up the ghost. 23. How many [are] mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
20. During the depression phase of grief, the client primarily needs emotional support. I remember at a seminar hearing a counselor suggest a better approach than attempting to defend God. When a client came in "angry at what God had done to him," he sat down beside him and said, "If God did that to you, I'm angry at God too." By the end of the session, the client, through just being allowed to talk, reached the conclusion that God had not been responsible for his calamity. Job tells us what he needs:
Job 16:2 I have heard many such things: miserable comforters [are] ye all. 5 [But] I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage [your grief]."
21. We should take the client’s side by interceding for them. In Job 16:21, Job pleads for this, "O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man [pleadeth] for his neighbour!"
22. It takes faith in God to help them out of their self-pity. We finally see faith beginning to return in Job’s life in Chapter 19:
Job 19:21 Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me. 22 Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh? 25 For I know [that] my redeemer liveth, and [that] he shall stand at the latter [day] upon the earth: 26 And [though] after my skin [worms] destroy this [body], yet in my flesh shall I see God: 27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; [though] my reins be consumed within me.
23. One of the things that usually bothers the aggrieved person the most is that he seems unable to hear from God. This happens even to many Christians who have previously been close to God and had consistently heard God’s voice in the past. I believe this loss of contact with God occurs because the faith foundation of the relationship has been shaken. In John Chapter 14, Jesus explained that when He returns only those willing to obey (act on their faith) will be able to see Him. Job complains:
Job 23:3 Oh that I knew where I might find him! [that] I might come [even] to his seat! 4 I would order [my] cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would know the words [which] he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me."
24. The counselor's job is to speak for God and build the client’s faith until he can again hear from God for himself. If we closely examine these verses we realize that only three friends came to speak to Job; but finally a fourth person speaks. Elihu (God Himself), the son of Barachel (blessed of God), tells us in Job 33:6, "Behold, I [am] according to thy wish in God's stead." He goes on to explain that God has no obligation to "give account of any of his matters." He explains in verse 17 that God allows struggles: "That he may withdraw man [from his] purpose, and hide pride from man," but that He is on the person’s side and will deliver him if he will respond to God in faith. In Job 34:10, Elihu makes it clear that God is never responsible for evil: "Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God, [that he should do] wickedness; and [from] the Almighty, [that he should commit] iniquity." Consequently, God was not responsible for Job's calamity. It is important for the client to get to the place where he can thank God in his situation, because he knows that somehow God will use even this for his good. (Romans 8:28) According to Job Chapter 35, the problem is that the client has relied on his own ideas rather than trusting that God loves him and always has his best interests in mind.
Job 35:2 Thinkest thou this to be right, [that] thou saidst, My righteousness [is] more than God's? 5 Look unto the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds [which] are higher than thou. 14 Although thou sayest thou shalt not see him, [yet] judgment [is] before him; therefore trust thou in him.
Job 38:2 Who [is] this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. 4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding... 40:2 Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct [him]? he that reproveth God, let him answer it."
26. When the client’s pride and ego defenses have been dealt with and he accepts what has happened to him, he is finally in a position to have his relationship with God restored. This is an essential step in the acceptance phase of the grief process.
Job 40:3 Then Job answered the LORD, and said, 4 Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.
27. God makes the problem clear; the aggrieved person has been trying to escape personal responsibility by blaming God and others. God asks in Job 40:8, “Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?" The client must decide if he is going to trust God again or rely on his own understanding and logic. God does not feel obligated to explain everything to him. He just wants the client to trust that He does have his best interests in mind.
28. The client should repent, realizing how ridiculous his accusations against God and others people have been, and take responsibility for his own actions.
Job 42:2: I know that thou canst do every [thing], and [that] no thought can be withholden from thee. 3 Who [is] he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
29. The ultimate answer in grief recovery is personally knowing God through faith.
Job 42:5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor [myself], and repent in dust and ashes.
30. The final step of grief is complete when the client again has energy to invest in others. This is many times expressed by praying for the needs of other people.
Job 42:10 And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
31. The client should realize that grief has an important part in his life, and is actually a beautiful process of restoration. We see this in the names of Job's beautiful daughters,
Job 42:14 And he called the name of the first, Jemima (day by day or it takes time); and the name of the second, Kezia (spice like cinnamon—it makes life fragrant again); and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch (horn of antimony or eye paint or makeup—it makes life seem good again). 15 And in all the land were no women found [so] fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren."
In dealing with grief, in addition to just listening and giving emotional support, I attempt to educate the client on the grief process. Sometimes I use the book, Mourning Into Dancing (1992) by Walter Wangerin, Jr. As a resource on how to help people through grief see Helping People Through Grief (1987) by Kuenning. I also directly address the loss and teach the principles of protection from catastrophe when appropriate. (See my book Faith Therapy.) Of course, rebuilding faith is my most important task.
Steps for Helping a Client through Grief
1. Grief is the natural, automatic response to the perception of a significant loss.
2. The aggrieved person feels unfairly treated and usually blames themselves, God, or others for the loss.
3. He goes through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
4. The counselor should not attempt to give explanations or immediately challenge the client’s wrong thinking or emotional reaction, but listen and provide emotional support.
5. The grief process, which requires time for the sorting out of responsibility, emotional healing, and overcoming fears, should neither be rushed nor allowed to stagnate.
6. The counselor should not attempt to defend God but try to slowly rebuild the client’s faith.
7. Recovery results in acceptance when the loss has finally been processed. Faith in God will help in overcoming the client’s fears and he will again becomes concerned about the needs of other people.