Matthew 5:4 (NIV) Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
It was a common theology in Jesus’ day, and also shows up today, that if someone’s life is good and full and joyous, it is because they are living in God’s blessing. If they are well off, it is because God has blessed them because He is pleased with them. If, on the other hand, a person is poor, or experiences loss or tragedy, it is a sign of God’s active displeasure, and a good sign that there is sin of some kind lurking in the background.
This worldview allowed the typically well-to-do Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law to strut proudly about, secure in the belief that they were living comfortable lives because of their own righteousness. And it allowed them to put down people like the man born blind with a dismissive “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” (John 9:34 NIV) They saw the man’s misfortune of being born blind as a sign of God’s displeasure with him or his parents, or possibly both.
But the fact is, the world is not the way God originally created it. It is torn and broken by the after-effects of the original sin. Yes, some do live lives of relative peace and prosperity, but the life of nearly everyone, if they live long enough, will be touched by sorrow and tragedy.
Once again, though, Jesus turns the philosophy of the world, even the religious world, on its head. In the world, those who mourn due to tragedy and loss are often considered cursed. In the kingdom of God, though, there is potential for blessing in the midst of every tragedy, because where there is mourning, there is the potential for that person to receive comforting, IF they will turn to the Lord.
This teaching is essential, not just for God’s people to understand, but for them to teach to the people of the world as well. When people are taught that any tragedy that befalls them is the result of God not caring, or of their own sins coming back to haunt them, tragedy and loss loses its ability to turn people to God for the comfort that they need. Instead, they are given cause to rail against God for being demanding, harsh, cruel, and inscrutable. Or they turn away from God in shame and discouragement, never quite sure which of their sins they are suffering for, but sure that God has thoroughly rejected them.
But when they are taught to run to God for comfort in the midst of the inevitable losses and tragedies that they will face in this sin-broken world, they will be shown the open door to the twin blessings of comfort and God’s presence that will see them victoriously through everything that this world can throw at them.
Father, the picture that comes to my mind as I think about this was when I fell as a child and skinned my knee. I was in pain, and ran instinctively to my parents for comfort. Even though the fall might have resulted from my own clumsiness, I did not spend time beating myself up about my bloodied knees – I just ran to where the comfort was. In that process, I didn’t learn to distrust the world for its dangers and its potential for pain, although I did learn to respect that potential and to be more careful. The lesson that I learned was to trust my parents to help when I fell prey to that potential. Help me to share these words of comfort with everyone this week, especially those who are mourning now. Amen.