Matthew 5: 4
This is one of the strangest statements in the Bible. It is a paradox and a mystery. “Blessed are those who mourn,” said Jesus. Happy are the sad! What do these strange words mean? Who are the mourners, why are they sad, and how are they comforted?
1. The Mystery of Human Suffering
Most of us know about Jim Elliot, the missionary martyr who died in Ecuador in January 1956 when he and 4 other missionaries were killed by the Auca Indians. The story made headlines around the world and inspired books, films and generations of Christian missionaries. More than a half-century later, we still repeat Jim Elliot’s famous words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
Jim Elliot’s story gripped the evangelical world, making him arguably the most famous missionary of the 20thcentury. What most people don’t know is that he had an older brother who went to Peru as a missionary in 1949. During his 62 years on the field, Bert Elliot established 150 churches. He died in Trujillo, Peru on February 17, 2012 at the age of 87. Bert described his younger brother this way: “Jim and I both served Christ, but differently. He was a great meteor, streaking through the sky.”
Bert Elliot was home on furlough when Jim and the other missionaries were killed. He and his wife wrestled with whether or not they should return to the field: “Why doesn’t God take care of us?” he remembered asking. “If we give our lives to serve him, how come there’s not the protection?” The answer that came to him then became the hallmark of his own life. “It’s in dying that we’re born to eternal life,” he said. “It’s not maintaining our lives, but it’s giving our lives.” So a few months later, Bert Elliot and his wife, Colleen, returned to the jungles of Peru.
Bert Elliot was a “faint star that rose night after night, faithfully crossing the same path in the sky, to God’s glory.” Jim Elliot was a great meteor, streaking through the sky. Which one did the greater work? Why did one die young and the other live 87 years? God has his reasons but he doesn’t explain them to us.
No matter how long we think about them, these questions cannot easily be answered because - “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29: 29).God has his reasons but he’s not obligated to explain them to us. The “secret things” describe the deep purposes of God that we simply are not capable of understanding. What sort of explanation would sufficiently explain to us why one man lives while another man dies?
“His paths are beyond tracing out.” (Romans 11: 33) That means that you can’t trace God’s footsteps. You don’t know where he’s come from, and you can’t tell where he is going. All you know is that he is with you in the midst of your suffering.
Watching over the death bed of my dad, the words of Paul came to my mind, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4: 16). But still the question remains. Why did Jim Elliot die so young when he had so much to offer the world? All human explanations must ultimately fail. It is a mystery hidden in the mind and heart of God. Is there an answer to the question Why? Yes, there is, but the answer is hidden from our view.
To all our questions, God replies, “I AM WHO I AM.” The answer is a Person, not an explanation. Someone may reply, “But that’s not enough. I want a real answer.” To which I reply, “If God himself is not enough, then no answer would ever satisfy you.” But to leave the matter there would not be fair, for the Bible has a great deal to say about the ministry of divine comfort.
2. The Ministry of Divine Comfort
It tells us a number of important truths we need to remember.
A. God himself draws near to those who hurt.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34: 18) Here is a promise of God’s special presence in the midst of our pain. Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord himself draws near to us in times of great suffering. We sense his presence in a way that goes beyond the natural. We hear his voice though there is no sound in the room. Many Christians can testify to this special sense of God’s nearness felt during a time of great suffering.
B. God uses suffering to draw us to himself.
In this same Psalm David declared, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 38: 4). Suffering turns us to the Lord as nothing else can. “You never know if Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. And when Jesus is all you have, then and only then will you discover that Jesus really is all you need.”
Even going to prison can be good if it causes us to turn to the Lord. So it is with all the troubles, difficulties and afflictions of life. We pray more, and we pray more fervently during a time of crisis because we know that if God doesn’t help us, we’re sunk. Sometimes I think that God allows certain things to happen to his children in order to get our attention focused completely on Him.
C. We grow faster in hard times than we do in good times.
Romans 5 describes the process God uses to develop godly character in our lives. In fact, Paul says that “we also rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3). That may appear to be a misprint, but it isn’t. Paul isn’t suggesting that we should become masochists who rejoice in the hard times as if we enjoyed the pain. That wouldn’t even be a Christian idea. He doesn’t say, “We rejoice because of our sufferings” but rather, “We rejoice in our sufferings.”
Even in the most difficult moments, God’s people can rejoice because he is at work doing something important in them. The next few verses explain the process. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, character produces hope, and “hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (v.5). What starts with suffering ends with the love of God. This is a wonderful progression, but you cannot get to the love of God without starting in the place of suffering.
More than one person has said to me, “I wouldn’t trade my pain for the things God has shown me.” If that doesn’t make sense to you, it is only because you haven’t been there yet.
D. Our sufferings qualify us to minister to others.
2 Corinthians 1: 4 - God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” The Greek word is the same word Jesus used in Matthew 5:4. God uses our sufferings to comfort us so that when we are better, we can then minister to others in his name.
No one understands cancer like someone who has been through it. No one understands divorce like a person who’s been through it. No one understands the pain of a miscarriage like a mother who has lost a child that way. No one knows the pain of losing a job like someone who has been told, “You’re fired.”
Many Christians are superbly qualified to minister to others, and they don’t even know it. They are the ones who have been deeply hurt by the troubles of life, and through it all they have discovered that God is faithful. Those folks have an important message to share. They can say with conviction, “God will take care of you. I know, because he took care of me.”
They have earned their degree in the School of Suffering, and now they are qualified to minister to others who are newly enrolled.
3. The Majesty of God’s Sovereignty
What do these things teach us about the character of God?
A. Because God is sovereign and we are not, most of our questions will never be answered in this life.
Some people can’t live with that truth, so they devise human answers to explain suffering and death. Those answers almost never work, and sometimes they hurt more than they help. When I am called to the hospital, I never try to answer these hard questions. They are beyond me. Better to say less and be silent before the Lord than to try to explain the mysterious ways of God.
B. Because God is good, we know that he has our best interests at heart.
That sentence gets to the heart of Romans 8:28. The older I get, the more I am convinced that the goodness of God is the central issue of life. If you believe God is good, you can endure things that would break most people. You can live with unanswered questions so long as you believe in the goodness of God. But once you doubt his goodness, you must become either a secret atheist or an angry Christian. There’s not much difference in those 2 categories, if you think about it.
In stating it that way, it is important to remember that God’s goodness doesn’t depend on our happiness.Like many people, we are accustomed to connecting God’s goodness with my happiness. But it doesn’t work that way. In churches of Nigeria, whenever the church gathers, the speaker will say, “Hallelujah,” and everyone responds, “Amen.” When the speaker says, “God is good,” with one voice they reply, “All the time.” Our brothers and sisters are right. God is good all the time.
God’s character is not on trial in your sufferings. God is good, and his mercy endures forever. That is true regardless of our moment-by-moment experience.
C. Because God is wise, nothing is ever wasted in our experience.
Romans 8:29 tells us that God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. I often think of a sculptor sitting down before a hunk of marble. On the outside, the marble looks ugly and unformed. But the sculptor sees something beautiful inside that hunk. So with hammer and chisel, he begins to chip away. For many weeks he shapes, cuts, and polishes, until little by little an image emerges from the stone. On and on he works, never stopping until the sculpture is complete. What was once ugly is now a thing of beauty.
The Lord takes the hammer and chisel of human suffering to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. In those moments when we feel that God has simply hammered us into the ground, we discover later that nothing was done in anger, nothing in haste but everything was according to his plan so that, in the end, we might be beautiful, like Jesus himself.
The most beautiful Christians are not the young, the rich, the educated, the successful or the influential. Those persons may be happy, but their lives are shallow because the sculptor has not yet picked up the hammer and the chisel. The most beautiful Christians are those who have been through suffering and come through it with their faith in God intact. They may not laugh as much as others and their faces may be lined with care, but the beauty of Christ is in their eyes and their voices testify to God’s amazing grace.
If you feel the heavy weight of God hammering down on you, rest assured that nothing is being wasted. Everything has a purpose. In the end, God will be glorified, and you will be more beautiful than you ever dreamed possible.
D. Because God is love, he will not leave you alone in your pain.
This is the promise of the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). God will come to you. You may not feel it or believe it, but it is true, for he has promised it. I know God will come to you, because he came for you 2000 years ago. God proved his love when he sent his Son Jesus into this sin-cursed world. He didn’t have to do it. He chose to do it. He did what we would never do. He voluntarily sacrificed his only Son. He not only sent him to earth, He stood by and watched Jesus die a terrible, bloody death.
After Calvary, God has nothing left to prove to anyone. How can you doubt his love after you look at the bleeding form of Jesus hanging on the cross?
See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love or sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
I realise that this may not answer every question, but it does answer the most important question: Does God care for me in the midst of my suffering? The answer is yes, God cares for you, and if you doubt his love, fix your gaze on the Cross and be comforted. He knows what you are going through. He will personally comfort you, and in the end, you will be blessed.