Ours is the last generation to embrace the idea of mourning as a highway to happiness. As soon as we feel the slightest twinge of melancholy we rush to our favorite form of entertainment to chase away the blues. We’ll do anything to avoid feeling down. We use laughter and comedy as a narcotic to help us forget our pain. Stand up comics, comedy clubs, situation comedies and The Comedy Channel all help us entertain our pain away. According to sociologist Neil Postman we are “amusing ourselves to death.”
Only a stone-faced preacher would think laughter is a sin. A career in stand up comedy might not be in my future, but I love to laugh and be around people who make me laugh. Laughter is good for the soul. However, King Solomon said wisely, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4). Most of us would rather laugh and dance than weep and mourn. Our life on planet earth, though, is somehow incomplete without the experience of both laughter and mourning.
Laughter is a gift from God but so is mourning. Take the sound of laughter out of the world and it becomes a dull, despairing place to live. Laughter about pure, lovely, honorable and excellent things is good and acceptable to God. The best laughter, of course, is the kind we turn on ourselves.
Frivolity, on the other hand, is the devil’s way of keeping us from being sober minded when the situation calls for it. Jesus must have thought it was important for us to mourn or else he wouldn’t have said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” James, his half-brother, also wrote, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom” (Jas. 4:9).
The second beatitude dispels the notion that the Christian life is one continuous moment of bliss and hilarity. It too runs contrary to so much of what we hear in today’s health, wealth and feel-good Christianity. We forget that Jesus himself was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).
The second beatitude naturally follows the first. Those who fully embrace their spiritual poverty will naturally mourn over their sinful condition. In other words, contrition follows confession. The sorrow that comes over the ‘poor in spirit’ is godly and leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Repentance yields God’s forgiveness which brings comfort.
William Barclay says, “The joy of forgiveness is through the desperate sorrow of the broken heart.” No man can find comfort in his sin for very long. Eventually his sin will find him out and his conscience will eat him alive. Yes, happy and supremely blessed is the person that mourns the sin that breaks the heart of God. By doing so he takes one step closer to repentance and forgiveness, the only thing that will make him happy and sad at the same time.