“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jesus taught his disciples to take comfort in this truth: that they will be blessed when they suffer. The world cannot reconcile a “good God” to one who allows his people to suffer. Though seemingly contradictory, Christ tells his people that suffering, and blessing are closely connected. Why are those who mourn blessed?
The Meaning of ‘Blessed’
“Makarios” or “blessed, happy” is the Greek word Jesus is using. To be blessed is “to be envied.” Mourners are not envied by onlookers, at least not those who mourn over the death of a loved one. They are typically pitied. The deep pain of mourning associated with the death of a parent or child is visceral and leaves an emotional scar. This pain never entirely goes away.
As for blessings, these are usually associated with happy circumstances. One will exclaim, “I am so blessed!” in the midst of a joyful family reunion, after receiving a bonus at work, or as a result of being declared cancer-free.
Yet, Jesus says that sufferers who rest in Christ are fortunate. People should covet what they have. Like the mourner, so also is the man who is poor, the man who seeks justice, and the meek.
Each of these individuals is — in an earthly sense — lacking something. He lacks strength or money. He is the victim of injustice or dearly loves someone who has been beset by tragedy. How can Jesus suggest that the world should envy their gifts?
The Downside of Happy
We are prone to forget the Lord and to walk away from our Father when circumstances are positive. In his goodness to us, however, the Lord reminds us that we are dependent upon him “so that we don’t run after idols that might seem better and more reliable than him in the moment,” writes David Zuleger.
Happy circumstances often breed idols. One trusts them to provide whatever he or she needs such as a sense of safety or significance, or relief from pain. Often, these are morally neutral things such as money, children, a job, or a substance.
They are only exposed as idols — things or people we believe we need — when they are taken away and suffering ensues. The Lord demands that we worship him alone and seek him to provide our significance, safety, and relief.
He is glad to provide enjoyment as a result of these gifts he provides, but he will go to great lengths to restore a wanderer who has ceased to depend upon him.
Not only is idolatry a sin, but no idol can provide a lasting sense of significance, eternal safety, or consistent peace under any circumstances. Christians become idolaters and the Lord will still forgive, but he calls his people to grieve their sin.
The Object of Mourning
To grieve sin is to mourn over the reality that one has rejected God. Pentheó means, “I mourn, lament, feel guilt.” Grief and guilt are not synonymous, although guilt is a stage of grief. One’s attitude to sin should be a feeling similar to that of mourning the death of someone he or she loves because our sin required payment in blood.
Mourning one’s sin leads to feelings of guilt, indicating a movement in the heart, an awareness of sin, and a desire to change. Mourning is not repentance, but repentance is the next logical step. Without mourning, there can be no true repentance. “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9).
Jared Mulvihill explains: “James writes this way because he knows the gospel becomes glorious when the depth and power of our sin are understood as grievous. When we see a clearer glimpse of our sin we behold a clearer glimpse of the cross.”
Joy in Mourning
Our sin costs God greatly; therefore, we must weep. But we must also rejoice; if we are faithful there is no other proper response. “The horror of our sin magnifies the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice.”
We rejoice because Christ is the perfect friend, the one who put us ahead of himself and died so that we could live if we choose him over a form of futile happiness the world might supply but which will not last.
Better still, we can rejoice because Christ did not stop at giving himself as a sacrifice: he defeated death and we are raised with him (1 Corinthians 6:14).
Better than Happiness
Joy is not happiness. Oswald Chambers insists there is no comparison; these nouns do not describe degrees of the same emotion. “What was the joy that Jesus had? […] The joy of Jesus was the absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice of Himself to His Father, the joy of doing that which the Father sent Him to do.” If one enjoys the Lord and submits to him, he will mourn over sin.
Mourning will also give way to joy through the realization that one’s sins are forgiven. Paul wrote that one who cannot submit to the Lord is “hostile” towards him (Romans 8:7). But James declares that the one who submits to God causes the devil to flee (James 4:7).
He puts his pride, ego, and disobedience aside to allow his Father to work powerfully through him, to his own benefit and to the glory of God. The Devil will beset each person in this world — suffering will happen — but out of that situation, the believer will be blessed by seeing that the Lord has defeated Satan. The Evil One is no match for the Messiah.
One cannot mourn unless he has lost something. What is worth mourning over for the Christian? What is the one irreplaceable gift? This is the favor of God, the blessing of his presence and his love. And he has promised never to take it away.
Cannot Be Blessed Without Suffering
Paul was convinced that nothing could separate him from the Lord. If we lose everything of temporal value, the Lord will not turn his face away. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19).
He has promised to rescue all who put their faith in Christ for salvation and we know he can be trusted. The loss of anything but him — even a desire or a dream, which seemed so good, so exciting, so promising, but which was contrary to the will of God — is a blessing by contrast with losing the favor of God, which provides the peace and presence of Jesus by his Spirit.
It is a gift rooted in submission to and joy in the Lord. When our joy finds its foundations in the Lord, David Mathis says it is “grounded in who God is […]. There is no greater foundation, no greater source, no greater reason for stability and security and genuine joy [than] his favor for a lifetime.”
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.