God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Why is There No Heartbreak in the Bible?

There doesn’t seem to be any heartbreak in the Bible, at least not romantic heartbreak. In light of how popular that theme is in popular culture, we have to wonder why, particularly because the Bible is largely about the human condition. Why is such a common emotion lacking from the Bible?

Other interpersonal sorrows feature prominently: sibling rivalry, marital strife, barrenness, jealousy, and murder. And biblical characters lament the death of their parents, their children, and their spouses. But where is unrequited love?

Some passages seem tangentially related. James 4:2, for instance, may come close: “You covet but cannot have, so you fight” — if “so” is the correct interpretation here. The famous passage about love in 1 Corinthians 13 might be re-purposed as relationship advice, and so might 1 John 4:7-8 (“whoever does not love does not know God”). Proverbs 13:12 acknowledges that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

But why aren’t there any stories about the acute agony of a broken heart?

What do you think?


February 10, 2016 - Posted by | biblical interpretation | , , ,


  1. Psalm 34:18 seems about as close as you get.

    Maybe because there’s such an overwhelming imperative to be joyful that any expression of sorrow is avoided so as not to legitimize the emotion in any way.

    Comment by Jason Engel | February 10, 2016

  2. A possible example of heartbreak might be found In 2 Samuel 3:16, when Phaltiel weeps at the loss of Michal (who deserts him for David).

    Comment by Michael | February 10, 2016

    • Thanks!

      Comment by Joel H. | February 10, 2016

    • Yet in this case, Phaltiel is basically mocked and humiliated, portrayed as weak.

      Comment by Jason Engel | February 10, 2016

  3. Ah…but what about the only woman in Torah who is described as loving her husband–Michal, daughter of Saul, first wife of David? Surely, she experienced such an emotion; for, she is sorely disappointed by David’s behavior when he escorts the Ark. do you think that she was able to simply stop loving him at that moment? Or, do you think that she was heartbroken to realize that David cared more for G-d than he did her?

    Comment by Ariel | February 10, 2016

  4. What about the theme of God’s heartbreak over His people Israel? We see this theme in Hosea, when God is described in anthropomorphic language as “yearning” for His people (Jeremiah 31:20). Also, we do see Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem and weeping for her. How could that not be seen as “heartbreak”?

    Comment by Eric Luppold | February 10, 2016

    • I did not mean to make it seem like I was quoting Jeremiah as a reference to Hosea. Rather, my intention was to say that we see the theme of heartbreak not only in Hosea, but in other places like Jeremiah 31:20.

      Comment by Eric Luppold | February 10, 2016

    • I was going to post the same thing. God being heartbroken, His unrequited love, feature prominently in Torah.

      In addition, the story of Tamar, who was married to a wicked man whom God killed, not once but twice, and then was promised a third husband but…well read Genesis 38. It’s intriguing, and heartbreaking.

      Comment by jasonmfry | February 10, 2016

    • Along similar lines, Ezekiel 33:11 came to mind.

      Comment by Richard Heyduck | February 10, 2016

    • I would call these “sorrow,” not “heartbreak.”

      Comment by Joel H. | February 16, 2016

  5. The deaths of Saul and Jonathan was heartbreaking to David and his men:

    “Then David tore his clothes. And all his men tore their clothes. All of them were filled with sadness. They mourned over the whole nation of Israel. They didn’t eat anything until evening. That’s because Saul and Jonathan and the Lord’s army had been killed by swords.”

    David, in particular, may have taken his BFF Jonathan’s death particularly badly since they had an intense bromance. Some have even speculated that they have a homoerotic relationship.

    Comment by Dan | February 10, 2016

    • But this is about mourning someone’s death, not the debilitating romantic heartbreak that comes from unrequited love or a breakup — themes that feature prominently in modern society, both in songs and other literature, and, it would seem, in life.

      Comment by Joel H. | February 16, 2016

  6. Most of the examples people have put forward have little to do with ROMANTIC heartbreak. I was going to mention David’s reaction at the death of Absalom (yet another example of a man being mocked and humiliated for feeling/expressing grief & loss, aka heartbreak. But that is parental; still searching for romantic heartbreak, of which Phalltiel’s reaction to losing Michal seems to be the only example of romantic heartbreak. While not trying to downplay a husband’s grief over his wife being taken from him to shack up with a guy who would ultimately abuse her, it’s still not the “romantic heartbreak” one sees in Romeo & Juliet for example.

    Comment by Jason Engel | February 11, 2016

  7. ISV Song 5:6 I opened the door for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away; he was gone! My very life went out when he departed. I searched for him, but couldn’t find him. I called out to him, but he didn’t answer.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | February 11, 2016

  8. Heartbreak!! The bible in general seems to be itself a ‘heartbreaking’ story of God’s love with humankind. Jesus’s cry on the cross “Father, why have thow forsaken me” is itself heartbreaking. This statement to me seems to reflect people’s underlying feeling of being rejected or forsaken by God due to their sin/inperfection or if one interprets it as God crying this out (if Jesus is God’), then it would seem God is expressing deep sadness over his people forsaking him. Heartbreaking either way.

    Comment by naomi | August 8, 2016

  9. There’s plenty of heartbreak in the Bible. (People mourn for their dead spouses, for example. Isn’t the whole book of Hosea about heartbreak? People have given plenty of other examples.) ‘Unrequited love is significantly more specific than ‘heartbreak,’ but it’s in there. They just don’t write 10 million songs about it and fixate and obsess about the way we do today. Why?

    -Maybe because they don’t spend decades of their lives “dating.” We spend immense time and energy searching finding and losing and hooking up and breaking up and fussing about mating in general. The process was different back then. Need wife, find female, negotiate with her parents, get betrothed, marry. (Whether that system is to your liking is a totally different question. Clearly, the male-dominated structure of society is relevant here, especially since they are doing the writing. My point is, there wasn’t a lot of room for ‘my baby left me’ stories.)

    -Maybe its because their writers have better things to write about. Rock stars and poets and script writers can moon and cry over their lovers all day long. The Bible covers millennia of time. Your sweetie made you feel bad? I’m sure it hurts, but we’re not going to immortalize it in the history of Israel, or the laws by which our nation runs, or in the prophesies given by God Himself (except where it actually helps carry the message, like in Hosea).

    -Maybe because “unrequited love” as we know it today, is actively against the teaching of the Bible. If you are both eligible to be married, marry her. If she is not available, don’t covet. (I know this author doesn’t believe that ‘covet’ means ‘covet,’ but he’s wrong. Sorry.) This point is similar to my first point. I guess one way of distinguishing between these two ideas (‘preoccupation with heartbreak is more prevalent today’ vs. ‘preoccupation with heartbreak is discouraged by the teaching of the Bible’) is to ask the question: How does the coverage of this subject in the Bible compare with other ancient writings?

    -Maybe it’s just too basic. Everyone knows or can identify with it, even if the societal structure at the time didn’t emphasize its expression or analysis. Many posters have made the point that ‘unrequited love’ is core to the message of the Bible. God loves people. People reject God. God loves a people. Those people reject God. He makes the illustration over and over again. For those illustrations to land emotionally, the reader needs to be able to empathize with the situation. They wouldn’t be used if people didn’t understand them.

    Comment by Lee | August 19, 2016

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