I think a lot of us here with food addiction or eating disorders know what it is to mourn.
We mourn the loss of our health, our energy, our dignity, and our ability to fit into normal clothes. We mourn for what might have been: the potential we might have reached, the purpose our lives may have had, if not for this blackness that sucks everything into it. And we mourn our inability to change.
I feel like I’ve spent half my life in mourning – weeping and wailing on the inside, if not on the outside. So when I see a verse like this, it seems written directly to me.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Matthew 5:4
It’s a comforting thought. But if I’m honest, it also looks a little out of place. Why should we be blessed for mourning?
What’s so Blessed about Mourning?
The other ‘blesseds’ at least make sense. Being poor in spirit, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, pure in heart – these seem somewhat bless-worthy to me. They’ve been named the ‘beatitudes’, because they represent the correct attitude for a Christian to assume.
But mourning? Why is it correct to mourn? It seems like one of those things that’s just a natural part of life. Dependent on circumstances. Someone you love dies unexpectedly – you mourn. A flood takes out your home – you mourn. Are you less blessed if your life is relatively devoid of tragedy? If you’re the type of person who tries to get on with life instead of grieving for the past?
Mourning just doesn’t automatically strike me as something particularly praise-worthy. It’s not wrong, but it doesn’t seem good, either. It’s something we pity, but not something we necessarily bless.
What About Joy?
And what about joy? I mean, aren’t we supposed to try to be joyful?
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…James 1:2
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.Philippians 4:4
So, which is it? Should we rejoice, or should we mourn?
The only answer, I think, is both.
To figure out how these seemingly contradictory directives can exist together harmoniously, though, will take a little digging.
A Specific Type of Mourning
It’s safe to say that in Matthew 5:4, Jesus can’t be talking about just any kind of mourning. Obviously, you can overdo it. You can spend your life mourning over imagined or overblown hardships, instead of accepting them as a part of life. You can go down a road of self-pity that in our case (or at least mine) often leads to uncontrollable bingeing. That can’t be helpful. That’s soul-sucking.
So this verse has to be pointing to a specific kind of mourning – without coming right out and saying it. Which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising. Jesus did like to speak in puzzles.
In my Bible, the explanatory note on Matthew 5:4 says that it’s talking about mourning over our own sin. Which pretty much describes me exactly. But how do I know this is true? I’m not the kind of person who just blindly accepts the veracity of Bible commentaries. And this is an important point.
So let’s puzzle this one out together.
Mourning over Sin: Does it Fit?
Context is the 1st thing I like to look at. I can’t even begin to fathom the damage that has been done by people taking pieces of the Bible out of context.
Is there anything in the context of this verse that would point to a mourning over sin? Unfortunately, there’s very little buildup to look at – it’s at the beginning of the sermon on the mount, so Jesus has just gone up on a mountain and sat down to preach. Nothing much there to tell us what his overall message was going to be. What we do have are the other beattitudes.
Clue 1: Blessed are the poor in spirit
The 1st, Blessed are the poor in spirit, has always confused me. My Bible’s commentary, again, explains this as:
the deep humility of recognizing one’s utter spiritual bankruptcy apart from God…those who are acutely conscious of their own lostness and hopelessness apart from divine grace.
Now, if this interpretation is accurate – and it makes sense to me – then it definitely lends itself to the interpretation we have of the 2nd beattitude: 1st, you have the humble recognition of sin; then, the mourning that would be produced by that recognition.
Clue 2: Blessed are the meek
Next, we have Blessed are the meek. Now, my Bible commentary calls this “supreme self-control empowered by the spirit“. What?
Time to get into the Greek!
Ok. So the word used for meek here is praus (sorry, I can’t figure out how to use Greek letters, so that’s the best I can do). It can be translated as meek, gentle, or humble. Historically, it was used to describe horses, particularly war-horses that had been broken in.
It’s not about being weak or ingratiating, as the English word may suggest to some readers. This meekness is about being gentle despite possessing great physical strength. Humbling yourself to obey when you don’t have to. Voluntarily submitting to someone you love.
There are a lot of lessons we could take from this. Lessons about love, gentleness, humility, and strength. But again, in context, I think the dominant theme here is obedience vs sin. Or, as my Bible commentary puts it, crazy, superhuman self-control. I’m picturing a war-horse changing direction at a low command from the rider on his back. He doesn’t have to obey – the human is physically smaller and weaker. But he does. He allows himself to be controlled by someone wiser than him, and because of that, he is able to accomplish more than he ever could on his own.
It’s a good reminder for me, right now. In my struggle with food – how often do I think I know better than God? I believe the lie that I can handle eating without rules, when he’s clearly shown me that I can’t. And in a situation I’m facing right now, where it seems that my talents and education are being wasted in a menial job that could be performed by a high school student. I need humility. I need meekness. I need to follow my God wherever he leads me, without question.
So, yes. I think we can safely say that in context, it would make sense that the type of mourning Jesus is talking about is mourning over sin.
Mourning over Sin: Is it Consistent?
Comparing this text with other passages also helps. My Bible’s notes points me to 2 Corinthians 7:10.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.2 Corinthians 7:10
I think we can assume that the mourning Jesus was talking about was the “godly grief” referenced here, not worldly grief. Grief and mourning being pretty clear synonyms, and Jesus being all about godliness rather than worldliness.
Putting it all Together
So if we put this together, we get something that makes sense. Those who experience a godly grief that produces repentance are blessed, because they will be comforted.
For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you…2 Corinthians 7:11
As my pastor said this morning, we need to focus on the Lord, not our circumstances. If our focus is on this fallen & broken world, we will never experience contentment & peace. We’ll be overwhelmed. But if we bring our burdens to him, he’ll take them. And that is how we can experience joy, in spite of mourning.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
Don’t be anxious about anything. Even your own sin. Mourn over it, yes. Grieve over it. But even our own sin doesn’t have to make us anxious, if we’re Christians. Because we know it’s been paid for.
No matter how stubborn and and rebellious my heart can be.
No matter how many times I go back to the food.
No matter how many times I hide from God instead of running to him.
When I do go to him, he’s full of forgiveness. As I cry out my repentance, there’s no more guilt or shame. But the fact that I did mourn has brought me to the only place of true comfort.