“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
We tend to have little affinity for suffering. We wish to avoid it at all costs, wishing to stay within the safe sanctuary of our own contentment. And that is problematic. A life of contentment without suffering will almost certainly be a shallow life.
Suffering, when we allow it to do its work, broadens our capacity for compassion. “Compassion” comes from a Latin word that means “shared suffering.” If you’ve never had suffering it’s hard to share it with someone else. You don’t relate. You don’t understand.
So instead of weeping with those who weep, we want to cheer them up. Not for their sake, but for our sake. Their grief, their sorrow, their pain, their suffering makes us uncomfortable. And so we come alongside them to cheer them up, not for their sake, but because, “Come on, man. You’re bumming me out here. You’re spoiling the mood. I’m uncomfortable. I’m not used to being around people who are acting like this. Get happy for me, will you please?”
And yet, that’s not what the Scriptures teach us to do. Paul says in Romans, “Weep with those who weep.” “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” We want to rejoice with those who rejoice, and rejoice with those who weep.
Here’s why God says to weep with those who weep. God has so constructed the human being that mourning can be shared. So that if I will enter into your sorrow with you, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. I don’t know how it works. But when certain things happen there is a certain amount of grieving that has to be done. Yes, we “grieve not as those who have no hope,” …but that doesn’t mean we don’t grieve.
And this particularly applies to death. When we encounter death, there is a certain amount of grieving that has to be done. But if we have to do it all by ourselves, it can be almost overwhelming. So God has so constructed human beings that we can share the burden. So that if I grieve with you, there’s some grieving that you didn’t have to do. We bear one another’s burdens. We enter into one another’s sorrow. We lessen the burden. It’s a profound, almost supernatural thing.
See, it’s a mistaken notion to think, “I’m not going to grieve because I have nothing to grieve about.” That is a very self-centered approach. It’s like saying, “I only grieve and mourn when bad things happen to me.” If you would just open your eyes and look around, within a few moments you’ll find something to grieve and something to mourn over.
With this Beatitude, Jesus seems to be saying, “Those who have given up being comfortably numb and artificially content in order to engage in the work of grief, these are the ones who will encounter the deep comfort that the kingdom of God brings.”
I’ve made it a practice to include a psalm a day in my prayer life. I’ve been teaching others to do this in our Prayer Workshops at Northside. We start with Psalm 1 on January 1st and move forward from there. Once we get to the last psalm on the 150th day of the year, we start over with Psalm 1 on the following day.
But we don’t pick and choose which psalm we include. We don’t say, “How do I feel today? Let me pick a Psalm that expresses how I feel.” That keeps everything focused on me. “I’m feeling rather chipper today. Let me pick one of these chipper psalms.”
The purpose of the psalms is not to express how I feel. The purpose of the psalms is to learn how to feel what they express. Because even on my happiest day, there are things to mourn.
And so I just take the psalms as they come. If it’s a happy psalm, then I rejoice. If it’s one of those psalms of lament (and there are many of them), then before the throne of God, I enter into the work of lamentation that must be done by the people of God.
There is a time to have a smile on your face. There is also a time to say, “My God, what has happened? Oh, the suffering…700 homes destroyed by a volcano in Hawaii. How much pain must those people be experiencing today? I shall mourn with them. I shall grieve with them.” See, this is a crucial part of being formed correctly.
You can’t just live in Easter Sunday. You access Easter Sunday through what happened on Good Friday, where there is much sorrow and suffering. It is only then that you can experience the gracious surprise of resurrection and new life, and hear Jesus personally speaking to you saying, “Peace be unto you. It’s going to be alright. I have overcome. I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I’m alive forevermore, Amen. And I have the keys of death and Hades.”
But you have to get to it honestly. You access Easter Sunday through Good Friday. Not by denying it. Not by avoiding it. Not by pretending there are never any Good Fridays. There are moments throughout our journey (and sometimes they seem far too abundant), when we’re experiencing pain and suffering and we’re crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And God seems totally absent. But it is through Good Friday that we access Easter Sunday.
And that requires that we know how to mourn.
(The painting is “Mourning Twins” by Sylvia Maier.)
NOTE #1: This post is part of a blog series on the Beatitudes. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Beatitude #1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
NOTE #2: If you are going through a time of grief and/or suffering, I would like to recommend a couple books. First, I recommend Is God to Blame? by Greg Boyd. Over the last several years, I have personally bought numerous copies of this book and handed them out to people I know who have struggled through grief. It is the most helpful book I know to help people through the theology of suffering.
I am also currently reading Still Rising by my friends Richard and Daphne Gaspard. It is the powerful story of their journey through the unimaginable pain of losing a child. The insights in this book are incredibly rich and helpful.