New Life in Christ: The Beatitudes for Today 2 -“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”(Matt. 5:4)
In this second beatitude the radically counter cultural ethic that governs life in Christ’s kingdom stands out in sharpest relief.
“Our civilization is devoted to fun. The ideal life, it seems, is one continual party. Drink hard, play hard, eat heartily, run to one entertainment event after another. Fun, fun, fun. Play, play, play. Run to the golf course, then to the lake, then to the game, then to the party, then drop exhausted into bed, and then get up and start all over again. This is our modern world. While every civilization has had its amusements, never has one had as many opportunities, and had so much time and money so widely accessible so as to make the fulfillment of its lusts possible. Did Hobbes say that life is nasty, short and brutish? No more! The pain-free, sorrow free life is at hand. Yet Jesus says, ‘blessed are those who mourn.’ Could anything be more contrary to the spirit of our age?” (Terry Johnson, When Grace Transforms, [Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: CFP, 2002] pp. 38)
To our ears surely there is nothing more at odds with the prevailing mood of the age than the blessedness of mourning! And yet Jesus tells us that the blessed life to which he summons all his disciples is a life characterized by mourning. In order to understand Jesus’ words better we need to rule out the kind of mourning he does not mean. Then next week we’ll think about the kind of mourning he does mean together with the contours of the blessing that follows such a life.
- It is not joyless sorrow. In Nehemiah 8:10 sorrowful believers are told, “do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” First Peter 1:6 speaks of believers rejoicing their salvation, though “now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” Grief-inducing trials and joy in salvation coexist in the Christian heart. Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 speaks of Christians in the midst of much affliction nevertheless receiving the word of God “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” And so the apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 3:1; 4:4). Whatever Jesus means by the mourning that must characterize his disciples, it is not the opposite of spiritual joy in the gospel. Of all people Christians have most grounds for rejoicing. We have reasons for an indefatigable happiness of spirit, for we have been redeemed by grace, are being kept by grace, and will inherit glory by grace!
- It is not the sorrow of bereavement. This is not a guarantee that all who mourn the death of a loved one will certainly be comforted. To read the beatitude in this way is to take the promise it contains out of context. It is not referring to the sadness of loss, but to a spiritual mourning rooted in a trial of a different nature than that of bereavement. While there may be comfort for us at a time when we mourn the passing of a loved one here, to use the text in this way is really to misuse it.
- It is not the sorrow of superficial regret. There is all the difference in the world between repentance over sin and shallow sorrow for wrong doing. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-11, Paul describes the difference between godly sorrow that leads to repentance (to which we will return next time) and the superficial regret of worldliness. Worldly grief, he says, “produces death.” It is a counterfeit - deceptive and deadly, misleading even our own hearts. It tells our consciences not to fear, but to be content with a light and cursory confession of wrongdoing after the fact. The godly sorrow Jesus commends cannot be confused with the tears of one who has been caught red handed, seeking only escape from the consequences of their offenses. That, in the end, isn’t real contrition at all, but merely an attempt at self-preservation. True mourning is not focused on self preservation but on the God before whom we live each day. His glory and his praise and his honor is the chief concern of a Christian heart, and godly sorrow mourns whenever we fall short of it.
While it’s hard to focus on mourning in our age of entertainment and positivity, knowing what godly mourning isn’t, and what it is, is vital if we are to sink the roots of a true and lasting joy down past the rocky topsoil of superficiality that our culture offers, to the nutrient rich loam of grace and comfort found only in Jesus Christ.
May the Lord bless us with his comforts as we learn to avoid all counterfeits, and begin to truly mourn.