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Happy are the Sad?

01 September 2019 16:39


Sounds extraordinary, doesn’t it? Yet there is a sense in which it is true. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus pronounces certain people to be blessed. God has marked them out for special favour and blessing. And amongst them are those who mourn. ‘Blessed are those who mourn’, said Jesus; ‘for they shall be comforted.’

Now it scarcely seems necessary to say that Jesus’ words are not addressed to everyone. This is not an announcement that every sad heart the whole world over will have its sadness taken away. God in his loving kindness does give comfort even to his enemies. The good things that dry their tears and restore their lost joys are the blessings of his common grace. But they have no prospect of a comfort that will swallow up all sorrow and which will last unbroken for eternity. That is the hope of the Lord’s disciples alone and it is to them alone that this beatitude is given. They are his poor but rich ones – poor in spirit yet measurelessly wealthy because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And they are his sad but happy ones – only too familiar with mourning but blessed with the promise of comfort.

The causes of our sorrow as believers are often no different from those of our fellow human beings. Grace has not exempted us from the common lot. ‘Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards’ said the patriarch Job, and though we are loved with everlasting love, we who are God’s people find that that is no less true for us than for our non-Christian friends and neighbours. Loneliness, poor health, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, the darkness of depression, the loss of a job – Christians are familiar with them all.

But just as we have joys to which unbelievers are strangers so we have sorrows as well. Believers have a distinctive experience of mourning – an experience that is directly the fruit of saving grace. We mourn over remaining sin, for example. Paul’s cry, ‘O wretched man that I am!’ is one with which we can readily identify because the evil that is still in our hearts and which manifests itself in our lives is a burden to us. So, too, the evil that is around us. The more Christ-like we are the more we are troubled by a world that is in rebellion against God. And of course there is the church. Christ loves the church and we who are his love it too. But it’s a love that makes us vulnerable to sorrow because the church is still so far from what it should be.

Jesus says, however, that such mourners are blessed. God has marked us out for special favour and blessing and Jesus tells us in what shape it will come – comfort. God will comfort his people. He does so in no small measure now through a variety of different means and in the future world he will do it perfectly and for ever. All tears shall be wiped from our eyes and there shall be no more mourning. And that is why, extraordinary as it sounds, there is a sense in which the sad are happy. Our position is happy! God has promised that he will be our comforter.

David Campbell