The Beatitudes, Part Two: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“Beatitude” means “a state of blessedness,” and it’s used to describe the type of people Jesus spoke about in the beginning of His famous sermon on the mount. We talked about the first one last week, so today we move on to the second.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4, all quotes from WEB translation)

The Greek word translated “blessed” is makarios (G3107), which means blessed and happy (Thayer’s dictionary) and is a state of being “fully satisfied” (Zodhiates’ dictionary). Seems like an odd word to pair with mourning, doesn’t it? I’m not sure about you, but “happy” and “satisfied” aren’t usually what I think of when I think of grief and lament, even if it comes with a promise of comfort. What is Jesus talking about here?

A Time to Weep, A Time To Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc. 3:1, 4)

Mourning is right and proper in its time. While joy is a fruit of God’s spirit, He does not demand unrelenting cheerfulness from us. There is a time for mourning, weeping, grief, and lament. It can even be good for us to experience those feelings. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,” it says in Ecclesiastes, because death reminds us of what really matters in life (Ecc. 7:1-4).

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)

Mourning is a proper response to realizing that we have personally sinned, and that the world is twisted by humanity’s sins and the devil’s influence. This type of mourning is often connected with a realization of our spiritual helplessness (which is covered in the first Beatitude) and it can lead to the sort of humility that it’s good for us to have in relation to God.

To Comfort All Who Mourn

Of course, not all mourning is a good thing. In many cases, it’s prompted by the sorts of unjust, tragic, grief-inducing events that God intends to put an end to in His kingdom (the sort of events we were reminded of yesterday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). One day, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more” (Rev. 21:4). That time has not yet come, but God still cares deeply about us when we’re in pain and He offers comfort.

The Lord Yahweh’s Spirit is on me, because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that he may be glorified. (Is. 61:1-3)

Jesus fulfilled this scripture by coming to earth and beginning His ministry (Luke 4:16-21). And what an incredible blessing it is that the Word, God, would come from heaven to earth in a human body with the expressed purpose of comforting those who mourn!

Fully Satisfied With and By God

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In his definition of makarios, Spiros Zodhiates says, “In the biblical sense, a blessed person is one whom God makes fully satisfied, not because of favorable circumstances, but because He indwells the believer through Christ.” Those who mourn are not blessed simply because they’re in distress, but because God responds to human distress with comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

God knows what it’s like to grieve and, because of Christ’s sacrifice, what it’s like to suffer as a human being. When we turn to Him for comfort, He responds in a way that makes us blessed even when external circumstances are terrible. Though His presence may not take away our reasons for mourning or the unpleasant feelings that go along with that, He is there. He does not abandon us, and that is indeed a blessing.

 

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Getting Through Affliction With the Help of God’s Law

I was reading Psalm 119 the other day and one of the verses that caught my eye reads, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71, all quotes from WEB translation). Most of us don’t think it’s good when we’re depressed, chastened, weakened, oppressed, and bowed down (those are all meanings of the Hebrew word anah, H6031, which this translation renders “afflicted”). In fact, we’re pretty sure those things sound terrible, especially now that we’re all experiencing some of them as a result of the current pandemic. And yet, this psalmist said affliction was “good” because what they endured helped them learn the Lord’s statues (choq, H2706, could also be translated ordinance, limit, or law).

There’s no getting around it. Christianity is tough. When you think about it, though, it’s not any tougher than life outside the faith and if you’re inside you have God’s help so that balances things out in Christianity’s favor. Jesus promised us His help, presence, and protection but He also assured us that we would face trials, persecution, and suffering. Better teachers than I have tried to explain why — The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey, for example — but one thing we can’t get around is the fact that pain is a part of life. And that’s true whether you’re a Christian or not.

One of the ways Christianity helps make sense of suffering is by saying it is a product of a world that has gone wrong. God didn’t want things to be this way, but they are now and until He comes back to set things right He’s going to find ways to make good come out of afflictions.

Delight in the Law

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are several verses within this psalm that talk about affliction, and we find the first in the zayin stanza.

Remember your word to your servant, because you gave me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has revived me. (Psalm 119:49-50)

A later verse in the lamed stanza puts this idea even more strongly:

Unless your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for with them, you have revived me. (Psalm 119:92-93)

It is not just knowing or obeying God’s law, but finding joy in it that helps get us through tough times. All the knowledge of His words we can gather won’t do us much good unless we really care about what He tells us. But when we hold fast to Him — and by extension His word and the things that He cares about — it’s possible to find comfort, joy, and help even in afflictions. The psalmists did, and we can too. Read more

Sheltering In The Almighty’s Shadow

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 91 quite a bit since the coronavirus became a world-wide concern. The rabbi at my Messianic congregation recently wrapped-up a six-part sermon series on this psalm, and none too soon since the very next week churches were asked to stop meeting. There are hospitals overwhelmed by patients, non-essential businesses being ordered to close, and “stay at home” orders coming from governments. It’s scary out there. But we don’t have to let fear take over our lives.

Psalm 91 contains some of the most stunning assurances of God’s care and protection in the Bible, and it’s a good reminder that we need not fear no matter how bad the things around us get. And things are going to get bad. None of us know when Jesus will return, but we do know we’re getting closer. As that time approaches, we were warned to expect “wars and rumors of wars … famines, plagues, and earthquakes” before the end comes (Matt. 24:6-8). None of what is happening now (or which has been happening for the past 2,000 years) should be a surprise for Bible-readers.

We’ve also been told how to handle it when things get bad. We should watch, be ready, pray, stay faithful, and fear not. Easier said than done, though, especially in these times when fear and panic are running rampant. One way to keep ourselves from getting swept up in unfruitful anxiety is by holding onto the promises in God’s word, like those found in Psalm 91.

God’s Power To Deliver

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, all quotes from WEB)

Hebrew words often have a variety of meanings. The one translated “dwell” (H3427, yashab) can also mean remain, abide, inhabit, and marry. It’s that last one that seems out of place to us English speakers. How can marriage and dwelling mean the same thing? But if you think of marrying someone as giving a dwelling to them it starts to seem a little less unusual (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon). The connection also makes sense as part of the recurring imagery of the Lord marrying His people and providing dwellings for them (Matt. 22:2; John 14:1-3).

This place spoken of in the psalm is a secret or “covered, hidden” location (H5643, sether) that belong to the Most High God. Dwelling here lets you rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Using these names helps remind us that God has all power and is perfectly capable of living up to the expectations the psalmist will speak of in the lines to follow. In addition, use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, demonstrates the closeness of relationship the psalmist has with Him and reminds us that He is the I AM who delivered Israel (Ex. 3:14-15). Read more

Lessons From Job: How to Interact with Hurting People

“They don’t need to say anything. Just be there.”

Those words, or a variation, come up again and again when I talk with people about what they need when they’re hurting. You’ll also find this advice in books, articles, and interviews talking about how to interact with grieving people. Don’t try to compare your pain to theirs, or explain it away, or slap verbal band aids on the wound. Just be there for them.

Whenever we think about suffering in the Bible, Job is one of the first stories that comes to mind. This man lost seven sons and three daughters all in one day, along with all his wealth. Shortly after that, Satan struck him “with painful sores from the soul of his foot to his head” (Job 1:13-22; 2:7-8, all quotes from WEB). Family, wealth, and health all gone in a moment. Job was about as low as you can humanly get. And so his three best friends came to comfort him and to teach us important lessons about how to interact with hurting people.

Comfort, Sympathy, and Silence

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come on him, they each came from his own place: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and to comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes from a distance, and didn’t recognize him, they raised their voices, and wept; and they each tore his robe, and sprinkled dust on their heads toward the sky. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. (Job 2:11-13)

Things started out well. 1) they cared about Job enough to keep track of what was going on with him and know he needed support. 2) they came to him for the purpose of comfort and sympathy. 3) they shared in his grief, weeping with him. 4) they didn’t talk; they just sat with him and waited to see what he’d need. Read more

When You’re Crushed Like Dust

Have you ever felt like your spirit is crushed and your heart broken? Like you’ve been pounded into dust or smashed to smithereens?

Those are the definitions for the Hebrew words shabar (H7665, broken) and dakka (H1793, crushed). I bring them up because I want to talk about this verse from Psalms:

Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. (Psalm 34:18, WEB)

When you’re ground down like dust and broken into pieces, God is there beside you. We often want Him to prevent or remove bad things but it seems that in most cases His preference is to walk with us through hardship rather than stop it from ever happening. We are promised deliverance, but in His timing, not ours.

Suffering and Deliverance

Let’s read some of the context for this verse (you can click here to read the whole Psalm).

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but Yahweh delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:17-19, WEB)

It’s clear from this psalm that righteousness doesn’t exempt us from bad situations. In fact, “many are the afflictions of the righteous” and they have to cry to Yahweh for deliverance. That holds true for believers throughout the ages.

I endured those persecutions. The Lord delivered me out of them all. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:11-12, WEB)

Here’s Paul, centuries after David, expressing the same truths. Those who follow God must expect to endure afflictions and persecutions, but they can also expect deliverance. Read more

When God Gives You Something You Can’t Handle

Have you ever heard a Christian say that God won’t give you something you can’t handle? It’s a nice, cozy idea in theory but it quickly clashes with real life.

What about my two Christian friends who committed suicide? Should they have been able to “handle” it according to this reasoning? And what about all the families I know who are reeling in the wake of unanswered prayers for a child who died? Are they being punished because God knows they can “handle” such a tragic trial? Or what about my personal battle with anxiety and depression? Am I failing to “handle it” when I turn to a counselor for help?

While the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle is taken from a scripture (1 Cor. 10:13), that’s not what that scripture actually says. Church people have twisted this verse into a feel-good platitude when there’s a lot more going on.

A Promise For Help And Protection

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In this part of 1 Corinthians, Paul is talking about what we can learn from Israel’s history. He talks about how Christ interacted with the ancient Israelites, the ways they displeased and tempted God, and the punishments they received (1 Cor. 10:1-10). Then he writes,

Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.

No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Cor. 10:11-14, WEB)

The Greek word translated “temptation” is peirasmos (G3986). It means a trial or “putting to the test” of a person’s character. When used of God, it means proving someone by bringing them “through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him.” When used of the devil, it means he’s soliciting someone to sin for the purpose of making them fall (Zodhiates’ Complete WordStudy Dictionary of the NT).

In context, the verse we’re talking about isn’t a promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle on your own. It’s a promise that He won’t let you be in a situation where your fall into sin becomes inevitable. He never sets us up to fail. Read more