The blessing of mourning – Matthew 5:4

#5 in the Sermon on the Mount Series

Jesus said this about mourning:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

In the introduction to his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis writes:

“When Mr. Ashley Sampson suggested to me the writing of this book, I asked leave to be allowed to write it anonymously, since, if I were to say what I really thought about pain, I should be forced to make statements of such apparent fortitude that they would become ridiculous if anyone knew who made them.”

Mourning StatueIn the same way, for me to write about mourning is somewhat presumptuous since I have not directly experienced much in the way of grief or hardship. Yet there is a sense, as we read these words pronounced by Jesus, that they are at least potentially applicable to all who read them.

This is another of Jesus’ sayings which seems contradictory on the surface. How is it a blessing to be in mourning? The ancient philosophers considered mourning to be pointless and like those philosophers, we expend a good deal of energy in trying to avoid mourning.

The Greek word translated mourn indicates grief which is “too deep for concealment.” (Vincent) This mourning is indicative of a grief that is at the core of the griever’s being. This is not mere sadness, but a disruption of life which feels as though nothing will ever be the same again.

Jesus experienced such grief and did not seek to hide it. At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept openly. Isaiah prophetically described Jesus as a “man of sorrows” in Isaiah 53:3. Death was not part of God’s original plan and the sense of loss at death is real and Jesus fully experienced that loss. Since Jesus was involved in the creation process, he is the only human other than Adam and Eve who fully understood the loss brought on by our human forebears’ rebellion.

Like Jesus, we should have some sense of the wrongness of much that happens around us. Death and destruction were not meant to be, they are not part of the original plan for humanity. Injustice, cruelty, theft, abuse and substance abuse are consequences of that first sin and are legitimate cause for mourning.

Unlike Jesus, we have to also mourn over our own participation and failure which propagates the wrongness. When we begin to understand and appreciate our role in bringing it about, it is appropriate to mourn. When a 19th Century newspaper editor asked the question, “what is wrong with the world,” G. K. Chesterton summed it up nicely when he responded to the editor with a two word response, “I am.” We’ve lost the innocence of the Garden and the desire to return to it is imprinted on our souls.

Still, while the mourning is appropriate, how is it a blessing? Mourning becomes a blessing when it is used by God to show us our need for the Savior. No politician, no actor, no pill, no group nor any religion can fix what is wrong with me and my world. It is only when I see my sin for what it is, mourn over it and seek help from Jesus, the only one who can take it away, that I can begin to experience comfort.

Notice that there is no definitive time in which the comfort will be experienced. When someone experiences the death of a family member, to expect them to be immediately comforted in the midst of it would be unrealistic and heartless. The sense of loss is very real and the mourning over this loss is appropriate. We can only stand by and weep, there is no better response.

Yes, as believers we can derive comfort from the fact that our sins are forgiven and that God is actively working in us to repair the damage from the fall. That sense of comfort is like a down payment or a movie trailer. It gives us a glimpse of what is coming. Yet, our comfort is tempered by our slow progress in becoming the person we want to and ought to be.

The ultimate comfort is when our work is done and we are by death or rapture taken from this world. In John 14:2, Jesus promises that he’s preparing a place for those who believe and are in relationship with Jesus. When I look at mountains, wildlife, rivers, and fertile valleys, I wonder how spectacular the place Jesus is preparing will be. If the one who infused nature with such spectacular beauty has been working for 2,000 years on a house, I’m certain that it will be worth the wait.