How to Read the Bible When Sorrow Overwhelms You

woman sitting on couch crying and looking out the window, wondering how to read the Bible when sorrow overwhelms you

On a recent Sunday night, I collected a few weekend photos, hoping to post about the needed fusion of fun and rest, community and solitude. Really, I thought it was charming. But then, in the blink of an eye, a phone call shattered this neatly curated carousel of social media photos.

As I have tenderly held onto grief these past few days, the words from a familiar hymn came to mind:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford’s poetic words about grief remain unparalleled. Many of you are probably familiar with the heartbreaking story. After losing his son to scarlet fever, Horatio sent his wife and four children to Europe for a time of inner healing. However, tragedy struck when their boat collided with a Scottish vessel, resulting in the loss of all four children. As Horatio traveled to join his grieving wife in Europe, he sailed near the location where his children had perished. There he penned these poignant words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll…”

Can We Find Comfort Amid Life’s Sorrows?

Indeed, as we traverse the oceans of life, sorrows like sea billows roll. In those moments when you find yourself at a loss for words, these are fitting. But how did Horatio sing “it is well with my soul” while sorrows swamped his boat?

As a Bible teacher, I would love nothing more than to offer answers wrapped up in tidy Biblical bows. But pretty bows disintegrate beneath the flame of sorrow. Victorious platitudes fall flat under the weight of grief. And a magic bullet eludes the hands wearied by suffering.

So I want to offer you a better approach to reading your Bible, especially in preparation for moments like this. In a world where sorrows like sea billows roll, a misreading proves misguiding.

How to Read the Bible When Sorrow Overwhelms You

Many Christians emphasize the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while glossing over the thorns. I am certainly enthusiastic about discussing the ultimate triumph through Jesus, but we do a disservice to our faith when we read the Bible through this lens alone. I do think faithful victory should be the primary lens, but not the only one. Perhaps a better reading can offer solace to weary hearts.


Walk with me for a moment and let us sit in the sorrow of others; sorrow that shatters today without predicting what tomorrow may bring.

Consider Job. He regained much that the Lord took away, but the loss of his children must have left a permanent void. Hannah prayed for and received a child, only to give him over as soon as he was weaned. Joseph wept more than any other man recorded in scripture, and although the Bible never uses the word, we would certainly say his life was marked by trauma. David spent years as a hunted man. Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And Peter, a steadfast rock of the church, was crucified upside down.

When we read our Bible, what difference would it make if we slowed down and engaged all of our senses? Could we feel less adrift in this world? Could we commensurate with the gaping hole of Job’s loss and realize there is room for our wounds in the Kingdom narrative? Might the sting of Hannah’s empty arms remind us profound sorrow and deep faith can intermingle? Could we summon a scrap of courage to bear up under the weight of threat as we hide with David the fugitive? Or perhaps we could inherit a greater trust as we sit with Joseph in a dank prison.

By doing so, maybe we could process our broken, tumultuous reality better. And might this open the door to fully show up for the pain of others?

Don’t Be Afraid to Dwell In the Bible’s Hard Parts

So I encourage you, as you read your Bible, pay attention to time and context. Sit in the gaps between chapter breaks and sense the months and years passing. Feel the emotions of David’s years as a hunted man, and Joseph languishing in prison, and Sarah’s near lifetime of infertility.

And let’s resist the urge to skip to the good part. Life is flecked with good parts like stars at midnight. But if we adopt the wrong theology that life’s joys are like perpetual sunshine, then our faith may falter when darkness envelopes us.

Read the Bible well, sea billows and all. Your soul depends on it.

Maybe you’re in a period of grief that has you questioning where God is through it all. If that’s you, this episode will help restore your hope in faith and healing: “Why, God?” Finding Hope when Faith Is Battered – 188

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