Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NIV)
This beatitude presents us with a paradox. One fruit of the Spirit is joy and Paul spends the entire letter to the Philippians challenging us to rejoice always. Yet here Jesus proclaims that happy are those who mourn. In His typical fashion Jesus provides no explanation for the cause of the mourning that will result in comfort. This is good. I would not like to live in a world where God’s comfort was only available for certain kinds of grief.
William Barclay identifies three different sources of grief. The first is the person who is experiencing grief and sorrow over a personal loss. We have recently been loosely connected with two deaths, one in the family and the other in our neighborhood. Those who are closely connected to the people who have died will certainly experience grief. Death sometimes seems very distant, but it certainly wasn’t in Jesus’ day. Jesus had compassion on those who had experienced loss and, in several cases, restored their loved ones to life.
Where does our comfort come from when we experience personal loss? If the person is a believer, then we are comforted by the resurrection and the promise that we will see them again someday. What if the person who dies is not a believer? This is harder, but I think Jesus’ blessing here still applies even as it challenges us. Jesus consistently challenges us to make our relationship with Him the most important relationship in our lives. From this side of eternity this might sound harsh, but when you arrive in the presence of Jesus, how much significance will your earthly relationships have?
Barclay ended his discussion of the first option with this poem:
“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.”
― Robert Browning Hamilton
The second option for the cause of mourning is mourning that flows from compassion for the sorrow and suffering of the world. The phrase that has almost become cliché is, “God, break my heart for what breaks yours.” I believe that God wants us to be a feeling people. It is appropriate to weep over the evil in our world that is destroying lives every day. It is reasonable to mourn with those whose lives have been turned upside down by natural disasters. If Jesus had said only, “Blessed are those who mourn,” and stopped there we would be crushed by the magnitude of suffering that exists in our world. Fortunately, we are not a people without hope. We are comforted and the compassion that we feel moves us to act. When we are comforted by Jesus and look to Him, He will open our eyes to opportunities to make His comfort real in the lives of those who are hurting.
The final option for the cause of mourning ties directly into the first beatitude. We mourn because we have sinned and recognize that there is nothing we can do to heal the wound that has been created. We say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but it still hurts to realize that we harmed someone else. We say “I’m sorry” to God because our sin breaks His heart. Just as the sin and suffering of others should motivate us to action, the Bible teaches us that sorrow over our own sin is a good thing when it leads to repentance.
Suggested Bible Readings and Related Questions:
- How had the Israelites sinned?
- Why do you think they mourned bitterly?
- What didn’t the Israelites understand about God?
- How long would it take the Israelites to learn about the significance of their sin?
- What do you learn about God from this passage in James?
- How seriously do you take your sin?
- How are these instructions similar to the beatitude we’re looking at?
- What state of mind is appropriate when you’re saying, “I’m sorry” to God?
2 Corinthians 7:6-11
- What does repentance mean?
- Why is Godly sorrow essential for true repentance?
- When was the last time someone corrected you for a sin in your life? How did you respond?
- When was the last time you said “I’m sorry” to God? If it has been a long time, why has it been so long?
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