That one small sentence has blessed my heart many times over the years I have been doing grief ministry. I learned it from a dad whose name is Bill. Bill’s bright and lovely blond ballerina daughter died of a brain tumor and Bill didn’t know what to do! He is a man’s man, yet felt these feelings he didn’t know how to deal with – till he read these verses that acted as instructions for his grief. “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” Acts 8:2
This happened at the stoning of Stephen, the church’s first martyr. The whole story is in Acts 6:8 – 8:3. Stephen is described as “…a man full of God's grace and power [who] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose… These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. (Acts 6:8-10) He is certainly a strong man of God. They still accused him of working toward the destruction of the Hebrew faith. He gave a long speech following the whole history of God’s redemptive plan. But when he said that his contemporary accusers were just like the old guys resisting the Spirit, they called for his death by stoning and began throwing rocks! They took him out of the city to the place where such events were done and stoned him. While they were stoning him, he looked up into heaven where he saw Jesus and prayed, asking God to forgive these guys. Did you see that timing? “While there were stoning him,” he was praying for them! Just like Jesus asked the Father to forgive His torturers. And Stephen died.
Saul was there. Not throwing stones but approving the process and holding the coats of the throwers. The conclusion of the story is in chapter 8. It’s just a few verses and mostly they are about Saul, for this is a turning point in the account of the church in Acts. But hidden in the verses is this little but hugely significant gem: godly men mourned.
My friend Bill could see that Biblical men mourned. Until this, he wasn’t sure a mature man could mourn. He thought maybe to mourn in a sign of weakness. If it is not weakness of character, then weakness of faith. These verses say otherwise. It says godly men mourned. If you think about when this event occurred in relation to Jesus’ death, surely some of these godly men were men who actually witnessed Jesus die and actually witnessed the risen Jesus. They had a better understanding of life and death, and that this earthly life is not all there is, than most of us have. And they mourned. This mourning is deep, painful mourning. (I’m speaking that in a deep throated, long monotone to emphasize the mournfulness of the mourning.) These men of God mourned.
Bill received through this little phrase in Scripture the permission he needed to mourn his daughter’s death with honesty and with feeling. I appreciate Bill for teaching me this. Scripture is the Living Word of our Living and Holy God.