The Happy Mourner

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The first clause is a classic biblical paradox. Exceedingly happy (according to Kittle, that is what the word μακάριοι means; here translated blessed) is the person who is full of sorrow.

Here are a few others, just to sample Scripture’s Great Paradoxes:

  1. To save a life it must be lost, and vice versa. (Matthew 16:25)
  2. Rejoicing is manifest in suffering (Colossians 1:24)
  3. A believer is the fragrance of life, and of death (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

That last is one of my favorites, and deserves a post of its own; which it will get here later this week. How is a believer the fragrance of both death and life at the same time? Post forthcoming.

Now, two questions to keep the grey matter occupied. Why are they mourning? And why are they exceedingly happy?

Piper’s answer to the first question is that they are mourning their spiritual poverty and their sinful condition before God (from verse 3). That is probably true, but I can think of a few other reasons for their mourning. They might be lamenting their personal loss (e.g. most of the LXX uses of the Greek word πενθέω – to mourn), or mourning the world’s spiritual condition and the desperate multitudes without Christ; maybe they are suffering for Christ. Maybe it is because they are persecuted and hated. The text does not say exactly, just that they are filled with sorrow.

But the text does say why they are exceedingly happy: because they will be comforted. God, in all his glory, awaits them and will replace the sorrow with the oil of gladness. Isaiah sheds more light on the lot of the happy mourner:

…the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified… (Isaiah 61:1b-3 ESV)

Let’s not miss the grammatical time frames of the beatitude. His comforting awaits us, it will come; but the mourner is exceedingly happy now (blessed are they). Hope has been set before us and allows us to be happy through mourning. Perhaps, that is why Paul could say with such confidence:

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… (2 Cor 4:17 ESV)

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

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