Many people, including Christians in Bible-believing churches, grieve the death of a loved one poorly. Sorrow is normal and healthy; excessive sorrow can lead to sin, depression, and despondency. Too many sink into despair and blackness, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

A couple of years ago, Becky and I were in California, and we stopped by John MacArthur’s church. While there, we visited the bookstore and I bought a small book written by the Puritan, John Flavel, entitled Facing Grief. The original title was A Token For Mourners. Flavel, who was a pastor in England, wrote the book in 1674 after the death of his second wife. His first wife died in childbirth along with the baby. People of that era were well acquainted with suffering, and Flavel was clearly a man who experienced his share of grief and tragedy. I found his book to be a huge encouragement in battling fear and anxiety.

Flavel’s book is an extended meditation on Luke 7:13, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’” With this verse and many others, Flavel helps readers navigate the painful terrain of grief and think biblically about it. He charts out a path to help us distinguish moderate sorrow from immoderate sorrow. Flavel says even true Christians can easily fall into self-pity and excessive sorrow which are destructive and damaging.

The chapters in Flavel’s book are as follows:
1. The Text Explained
2. Moderate and Immoderate Sorrow
3. Sorrow Permitted to Christian Mourners
4. When Sorrow Becomes Sinful
5. Counsel to Ungodly Mourners
6. Godly Mourners Comforted
7. Pleas for Immoderate Grief Answered
8. Rules to Restrain Excessive Sorrow

Flavel spells out what is appropriate for a Christian mourner and what is not. While his words may strike some as more of a scolding than comfort, this is because of the age we live in. Flavel writes as a pastor who has suffered a lot. As John Piper has noted, Americans live in an emotionally fragile culture. Dr. Paul Brand, who ministered to lepers in India for decades, said that Americans are traumatized by the sheer fact that they suffer at all. Brand says that we are often more traumatized by the fact of suffering than what we are actually going through.

Flavel’s book is full of wisdom and biblical reminders of God’s loving providence. As I read the book slowly over several weeks (it’s a short book), I found myself greatly refreshed with hope and joy in the Lord. I was reminded again and again where my real hope needs to be placed. It was truly a powerful book for me.

This is my second John Flavel book. He has now become one of my favorite writers. His biblical insights, wisdom, depth, and candor are incredibly refreshing in an age of shallow and superficial Christian books. The other Flavel book that I read was The Mystery of Providence, published in 1678. I read it in Saudi Arabia a few years ago. It was biblical, nourishing, and robust in its portrait of an all powerful God who is in full control of all things. Flavel reminds us of the real God of the Bible who is far more interested in our holiness than our happiness. He reminds us repeatedly of the wisdom of Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Do yourself a favor and prepare yourself for grief before it strikes. If you are currently grieving, let John Flavel help you to grieve well so that you get through it in a healthy manner.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor