Does God Experience the 7 Stages of Grief?

I’ve often wondered, if God, like humanity experiences, or has experienced, the seven stages of grief. To be quite honest, this pondering came, for me, as a result of watching the movie “The Bucket List” and all of its ‘grand ponderings as an unlikely friendship and love of life grew between the characters of the film.

Here is the grief model we call the 7 Stages of Grief, taken from the website Let’s see if we can find evidence that God, like each of us, experiences these symptoms:

  • SHOCK & DENIAL- You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. … Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

In the pages of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, we find much evidence of how God has reacted when God’s people have turned away, have defied what we have been asked of, by God.  The most memorable was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden. (Gen 3:8-20) However, we can find other examples, when humanity attempts to build a tower to heaven (Gen 11:5-9). When God destroys the world but saves Noah and his family because they listened to God. |(Gen 6:9-9:17) When the Hebrew people blamed God for taking them from slavery in Egypt to ‘die in the desert’ (exodus 15:22ff), this seemed to be equally as trying for God as it was for the thirsty, hungry, and footsore Hebrew people.

  • PAIN & GUILT- As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. … You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.

Returning to Adam, Eve, and family, we find God once more attempting to have a relationship with them. We often think that God turned his back on them when they left the garden, but this isn’t the case. God continued to be a part of their lives. When Cain kills Abel, God feels pain and guilt. Pain at the death of Abel and the cry of his blood from the ground, but also guilt because he created humanity and it is only at this point that the violent aspect of our natures comes to the fore. God however, couldn’t kill Cain in revenge of Abel and so marks him so that all the world would not kill Cain. (Gen 4)

But again this isn’t the only place. We see God feeling the guilt of the people as they languish in slavery, in exile. We see God feeling guilt for his anger with the Hebrew people in the desert, as they learn to be God’s people and God learns to be their God. (Exodus) We see this in the words of the prophets such as Isaiah; in the accounts of Esther and Ruth who work for the best interests for their lives, and for the lives of the Hebrew people, although in both tales God is not the primary character.

  • ANGER & BARGAINING- Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.

When we read the book of Exodus, I’m often struck with how often Moses intercedes with God on behalf of the people. How Moses convinces God time and again to not destroy these people God has liberated from slavery in Egypt. But we can see this, also in the time of the Judges, when to fight off invading forces, God is the ultimate leader although the judges, like Deborah (Judges 4-5), or leaders like Jephthah (Judges 10-12) were often doubted by the people earning God’s anger. We can see this in the words of the prophets when they gave unpleasant messages to the Israelites, such as Hosea, commanded by God to take an adulterous wife, and to give horrible names to his children in order to make God’s point to the people of Israel and Judah.

  • “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS- Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. … During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

We don’t often think of God as ‘depressed’, but we can find evidence of it. We find evidence in the silences the people felt and experienced during their exiles, during the times of testing; when they looked upon God’s prophets as ‘crackpots’, and God’s desire to renew our relationships. Looking at the prophets Joel and Amos we can find that God’s reaction, God’s message coming to us, out of a sense of depression, or loneliness. We can even find it in the words of Daniel’s apocalyptic vision that interpreted from a Christian point of view offers images of hope.

  • THE UPWARD TURN- As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.

Although this is focused at humanity, acknowledging that we cannot forever live in depression, reflection and loneliness, even God has to look with hope, with an emphasis of the positive toward the future. Here we can look at the words of Isaiah, as roads are made straight, as water is found in the desert, and life returns to the places in the wilderness. Such images are able to give us hope for tomorrow as they did for the people in exile, in the depressions of being cast out of their homes for generations.

  • RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH- As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

Again looking to the words of Isaiah, we find God setting the stages for the future, for the coming of the Messiah, for the hope that is being set up to be offered to Israel, to the world through the actions of Jesus in his lifetime amongst us. We see, in the prophesies of Isaiah, the seeds of our hope being born as we look past our current circumstances to what is available to us down the road, a way to step into the sunshine, into the light of God, into the hope of a new tomorrow, as the movie trailers say ‘Coming Soon…’

  • ACCEPTANCE & HOPE- During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. … You will start to look forward and actually plan things. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.

Looking at the words of the angels in the gospel of Luke, looking at the message of hope that comes to us through the actions of the Wise Men. We see looking at the way in which God’s angels safeguard the infant child until he is able to come to John in the river Jordan. We see Jesus, baptized with a baptism of repentance, and bearing our sins to the cross so that we can have a relationship with God that is only dreamed of through the pages of the Old Testament.  We see this hope born anew on Easter morning, with the resurrection of the Son, with the first reborn of the dead, with the words of the apostles across the known world so that God’s message of hope, and of love is available to each of us.

Eventually, we make it through the seven stages of grief. At the same time, we have seen, God too, intimately understands each of these stages, as God has been a part of our lives since the dawn of creation. Again, and again, we see God reaching out to us, to our hearts, giving us hope for tomorrow, giving us strength to deal with these seven stages, as we reach for the sunrise with the hope that a new day brings new opportunities.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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