February 28, 2020
The Joy of Mourning
Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The idea that when one is captured by mourning –actively grieved and saddened and lamenting – there is a blessedness strikes us as an odd conclusion. The endeavor to “be happy” is seen as one of the most important of goals in our contemporary world. In fact, studies done by Christian Smith have demonstrated that in the minds of young adults “being happy” is a divine purpose for our lives. So counter-intuitive is Jesus statement here, that we must make sure to understand what he means in this declaration, if we are to see how he could insist that persons who mourn in the way he intends can actually say they are blessed. Examining and realizing what Jesus means can, therefore, help us begin to see life the way that Jesus did and does. We can start to see life through his eyes and fit our lives into his vision for life, rather than envision him through our own and try and fit Jesus into our vision(s) for our lives.
The fact that this statement of blessing is made immediately after the declaration of the blessedness of realizing our need (our poverty of spirit) is a crucial matter. Jesus is not stating a psychological axiom. He does not mean what counselors and psychologists do when they tell us that on the far side of grieving there is peace and growth in our lives as persons. While that may be true, the Lord’s intention is far greater. Mourning, in this beatitude, is the only appropriate response upon recognition of our desperate need for God. Since God is the source of our lives, and the loving Father over us and His Creation, when we grasp and feel that we have not been living in concert with His will and His reign (kingdom), the most honest and only adequate response is to mourn (be grieved and lament) our failure to live as our Great Father would have us live. Anyone who comes to truly believe in the God of the Bible (Jesus’ Father) will be struck by how awful it is not to embrace and do God’s will for our lives – the goodness, love, holiness, and greatness for which God created us. Not to mourn this is not to care about God’s love for us and his will
Those who mourn their failures, however, will not merely see their individual sins as a sorrowful tragedy to be lamented. Instead, they will look at God’s world and the world that human beings have made of God’s Creation – especially in human society – and will mourn the moral and spiritual darkness we have made. The mourning ones weep over the oppression of the righteous, the suffering of the innocent, which are bought about by injustice and societal sin. They mourn, because their hearts are broken by what offends God’s holiness and demeans God’s children. In other words, they are not just saddened by what they see in their own lives and who they see themselves as, but are burdened with distress and regret – they mourn.
Jesus sees this immediate response to sinfulness, both personal and systemic, as that which enables blessing to come, nonetheless. Why? His answer is as powerful as it is cryptic: “they shall be comforted.” What does this mean and why would that entail blessedness in the present? The answer is found, I believe, in what such God-centered mourning leads us to. It causes us to repent, not merely “to be saved” but to turn toward God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength as those who have been given His kingdom (presence and reign). The comfort received is the comfort of knowing God’s forgiving, redeeming, liberating, and transforming love and presence, in the here and now, In fact, it is the same root word as the word paraclete (which name Jesus gives to the Holy Spirit). And it anticipates God final salvation from all sin.
Once that is known, then come what may, we know true comfort, not simply the ending of sorrow, but real strength from the encouragement of knowing God’s love.