How much does it bother you?
The opening scene of the silly comedy “Spamalot” is a post-apocalyptic scene of a land devastated by the Plague. A peasant is pushing a cart loaded with dead bodies. As he slowly rolls along, he calls, “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead.”
A guy walks up with an old man draped over his shoulder.
“Here’s another one,” he says.
But the old man says weakly, “I’m not dead yet.”
“Yes, you are! Shut up!” the guy replies.
The old man responds, “I’m feeling better.”
I am too often like that old man. I don’t want to face my true condition.
Overwhelmed by a sinful habit, I cry out, “I’m not dead yet. In fact, I’m feeling better.”
The first step in overcoming a sinful habit is to face it. I have to take a look at my own condition, examine its ugliness, assess the devastating effect it is having on me, and instead of crying out to anyone who will listen, “I’m feeling better,” I need to tell myself, “This is serious! I’m in big trouble! Look what a mess I’ve made of things.”
Jesus has the solution
We don’t want to admit it. We like to think that we are fine, upstanding citizens of God’s kingdom. We are afraid that if we face our true condition, if we admit our ugly rebellion against a loving Lord, that He will reject us.
But the wonderful message of the gospel is: “The Son of Man came into the world to save sinners.” Do I qualify? I certainly do! Then Jesus is fulfilling His purpose if He seeks to save me. Doing so gives him pleasure and fills Him with a sense of accomplishment. You and I should never say to ourselves, “I am a bother to Jesus. He would just as well walk away and be done with me.”
Wasn’t it Jesus himself who opened the Sermon on the Mount with these words? “Blessed are those people who know how poor they are in spiritual things. Heaven’s kingdom is theirs.” Being down and out spiritually is not a good condition to be in. But at least you can know where you are. At least you can perceive where you need to be.
Step two is to mourn your spiritual condition. “Blessed are those who mourn” is the next verse in the Sermon, and the two beatitudes are connected. Why are you mourning? Because, spiritually speaking, you’re broke! You are busted with absolutely no prospects of improving. After all of your bright dreams! After all of your shining potential!” Truly, you have made a mess of things, of your life.
Nothing is a bigger disappointment. What good is it, really, to gain the whole world and yet lose your very soul? Can you not perceive what a tragedy it is? Does it not make you want to cry? Well, go ahead. Maybe it will do you some good.
James clinches the nail
Our happy-go-lucky, “Have-a-good-day” culture doesn’t have any approved space for crying. We shy away from it, embarrassed. We don’t want to see someone crying, and we don’t want them to see us. But James urges us, “Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9).
To James, it doesn’t seem strong enough to say it once, “Grieve!” It seems to him to be inadequate just to say, “Mourn!” He feels compelled to demand, “Grieve, mourn, and wail.” I think he’s trying to make a point, don’t you? We must take our sin seriously. It is serious enough to drain all of the joy out of our routine. Maybe it we take it seriously, we will do something about it. Before sin hardens us. Before we wake up one day callous to sin, no longer caring what it does to our Savior.
Only when James persuades us to grieve, to mourn—yes, even to wail, does he then proceed to the next step, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).
Why is mourning important?
If we just move from realizing we have sinned (again!) to repenting and seeking God’s forgiveness without pausing long enough to mourn, we are not taking our sin seriously enough. We are trivializing what we have done, saying, “It’s no big deal.” In fact, we are ensuring that we will commit the same sin again… and again and again. Mourning is the painful but necessary step that recognizes the pain and loss, the distortion and twistedness that sin causes.
Three biblical examples
David – When the prophet Nathan pressed his accusing finger into King David’s chest and cried, “You are that man! You stole another man’s wife. You killed their beautiful marriage. You, who already had plenty of wives.” David confessed, “I have sinned!” But then he went through a grieving process. We assume he wrote Psalm 51 during this time of mourning. No longer could he sing, “Examine my heart. Am I not fully devoted to You, Lord?”
His song now took on a minor key. It became a dirge: “Against you, and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). He wailed, “Cleanse me! …Wash me! … Do not cast me from Your presence… Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:7, 10-12).
Peter – The rooster awakened the sleeping conscience of the fisherman-disciple. He realized as if awakening with a start that he had just denied his Master, not once, but three times! And what did he do? Did he reassure himself that Jesus would understand the pressure he was under? Did he tell himself that it would never happen again, that it was no big deal? No, the Scriptures say “He went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).
Saul of Tarsus – Can you see him? He is fervently pressing toward Damascus, no doubt intent on taking men and women of The Way by surprise, when the bright light knocks him to the ground and the voice asks, “Saul, Saul! Why are YOU persecuting ME?” A Jew advancing in the traditions of his fathers should be waiting for and longing to follow the true Messiah. Instead, he is persecuting the Chosen One by seeking to capture and kill His followers.
When Saul realizes what he has been doing, surely it occurs to him that his newly acquired physical blindness is an appropriate symbol of the spiritual blindness that has been his for years. For three days he does nothing except pray and fast, the traditional accompaniment of mourning.
Scripture is clear: the Lord forgives David and restores him to the throne of Israel. He takes away Peter’s sin and gives him back a place of leadership among the early Christians. He cleanses Saul of Tarsus and turns him into Paul of the Cross, Paul of the Gentiles.
The Lord also wants to lift us up from our hidden place of grieving and escort us out into the light of busy service in His kingdom. He will not leave us alone to waste away in our wailing corner. He comes there to meet us, to weep with us, and then to offer us hope.
The promises connected to this step
What does Jesus promise to those who mourn? He says, “…for they will be comforted.” He promises that we will find from God (the subject hidden in the passive voice) the consolation we need when a stark confrontation with our ugly, persistently sinful self floods our hearts with despair and our eyes with tears. “I know! I know!” He says. “It’s bad. It’s ugly! It’s wicked! What a terrible thing you have done. But your situation is not hopeless. Here, let Me encourage you.”
James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). Earlier he has promised, “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:8). It is a promise worth listening to, worth counting on, worth putting into action.
The next time you feel like telling someone who catches you in a sin, “I’m not dead yet. In fact, I’m feeling better,” say instead, “You don’t know the half of it. I am worse than you can possibly imagine. Pardon me, but I have to go now. I have an appointment at my Bitter Weeping place.”
Want to dive deeper?
Not only do we avoid grieving when we sin (in direct contradiction to the commands of Jesus and James, but we also avoid grieving other times too. Sometimes people think that when a believer dies, it is wrong to mourn for him. But the Book of Acts says that when Stephen was killed, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2).
It is no contradiction to be godly and to mourn deeply for a loved one.
Paul does not says we should avoid grieving. He says we should not “grieve like the rest of people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). How do such people grieve? Theirs is an inconsolable despair. But ours is not. We know that our loved ones in Christ are “safe in the arms of Jesus” (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23) and that we will be united with them on Resurrection Day (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Although death is still an enemy, not yet forced to submit under the feet of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:25-26; Hebrews 2:8-9), we can console each other that the desolation we feel at the loss of a dear one is only temporary.
Recommended for purchase:
Charles H. Spurgeon – The Power of Christ’s Tears (YWAM Publ., 1996).