Understanding the Non-Linear Five Stages of Grief


National Association of Christian Ministers How to Series: Planning #

Below is a brief summary of an otherwise large theory of grieving. 

When it comes to Christian or pastoral guidance, it’s essential to understand and guide individuals through the grieving process from a biblical perspective. The widely recognized model for grief is the Kübler-Ross model, which consists of five stages: 1. denial, 2. anger, 3. bargaining, 4. depression, and 5. acceptance. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that these stages are not necessarily linear, and individuals may experience them in different orders or revisit certain stages.

1. Denial: #

Description:  This is the initial stage where individuals struggle to accept the reality of the loss. There might be a sense of shock and disbelief.

Christian Perspective:  A person may deny the loss of a loved one, refusing to believe that God could allow such pain. They may question their faith during this stage.

Example Scripture for the Denial Stage:

        • Isaiah 41:10 (NIV): “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
        • Psalm 34:18 (NIV): “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
        • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV): “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”


2. Anger: #

Description:  As reality sets in, anger can arise. Individuals may express anger towards God, others, or even the deceased, feeling a profound sense of injustice.

Christian Perspective:  The person may be angry at God for not preventing the loss, questioning divine purpose. Encouraging prayers and open communication with God can be helpful during this stage.

Scripture for the Anger Stage:

        • Psalm 145:8 (NIV): “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”
        • James 1:19-20 (NIV): “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
        • Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV): “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”


3. Bargaining: #

Description:  People in this stage may attempt to make deals or bargains in an attempt to reverse or mitigate the loss.

Christian Perspective:  A grieving person might promise increased devotion to God or vow to change certain behaviors in exchange for reversing the loss.

It’s important to guide them towards trusting in God’s plan.

Example Scripture for the Bargaining Stage:

        • Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV): “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
        • Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
        • Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV): “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

4. Depression: #

Description:  The full weight of the loss becomes apparent, leading to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and despair.

Christian Perspective:  Depression in grief may involve questioning the purpose of life or feeling abandoned by God. Biblical guidance can focus on finding solace in scriptures and encouraging a deepening relationship with God during these dark moments.

Example Scripture for the Depression Stage:

        • Psalm 42:11 (NIV): “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
        • Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
        • Psalm 34:17-18 (NIV): “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”


5. Acceptance: #

Description: In this stage, individuals come to terms with the reality of the loss. It doesn’t mean forgetting, but rather finding a way to live with the pain.

Christian Perspective:  Acceptance from a Christian viewpoint involves surrendering to God’s plan, trusting in His wisdom, and finding peace in the hope of reunion in the afterlife.

Example Scripture for the Acceptance Stage:

        • Romans 8:28 (NIV): “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
        • Revelation 21:4 (NIV): “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
        • Philippians 4:13 (NIV): “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”


Remember, these stages are not rigid or exclusive. People may move back and forth between them, and the process is unique to each individual. As a Christian minister, integrating faith and biblical principles into the guidance process can provide a powerful source of comfort and healing through faith.


Dig Deeper:  #

Pastoral Care to Those Who Are Grieving