Happy Are the Wrecked, for God Will Draw Near to Them

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Like the first blessing in the Beatitudes, the second appears at first to be nonsense. “Happy are those who mourn” is a contradiction in terms. Jesus, I’m convinced, did this on purpose: he chose terms that were meant to shock and bewilder before giving way, upon closer inspection, to hope.


Like poverty of spirit, mourning is not a virtue. Sorrow is a negative; to weep, to wail, to be wracked and wrecked by grief, undoes and devastates us.

I don’t mean to suggest that mourning is a vice; in the world as it is, it’s necessary and important to grieve. Jesus did so on multiple occasions. Sadness is a response to the curse of death and the hardships of corruption: an appropriate response, but not in itself a good thing.

The first four Beatitudes are what I think of as the “negative” Beatitudes: all four bless an inherently negative state (poverty, grief, meekness–which should be read as “submissively enduring affliction”–and hunger) by promising a divine response of goodness. To borrow a phrase from another preacher, they are very like saying, “Blessed are they who have cancer, for they shall be healed.”

This is very like the God we see all through the Scriptures–the God who cleanses lepers, fills empty wombs, and gives kingdoms to shepherd boys and refugees. Rather than disqualifying us or turning God off, our weakness, need, and trouble attracts his grace and compassion. His strength, after all, is made perfect in our weakness.

It is not the state Jesus blesses but the person suffering in that state, and his blessing promises a way out.

Blessed Are Those Who Hurt

After blessing the spiritually impoverished with the promise of all the wealth and power of a kingdom, Jesus blesses those who mourn.

There is here no hint of rebuke–“Why don’t you just pull yourself together?”–or of spiritual pragmatism (“God is probably using this to teach you something”).

In fact Jesus’s response to those who mourn–and he doesn’t say WHY they mourn, indicating that there isn’t some hierarchy in which we are allowed to feel sad about some things but not about others–to those who hurt, who cry, who are sad, who grieve–is to bless them.

And the blessing is to me one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture:

“For they shall be comforted.”

Even in English this is beautiful. The Pixar movie Inside Out recently made the splash it did because we recognize its central premise: the world these days is not really okay with sadness. We are not really okay with sadness. We are allowed a little time to grieve (if, say, someone dies), but then we’re expected to get over it, grow up, move on, be happy.

Some things we are not allowed to mourn at all. The end of a marriage, we’re told, should be celebrated as a new birth. A move or career change is a positive, even if it entails loss. We are not to see our losses as losses but as gains.

I am all for positive thinking, but we become emotionally disconnected and unhealthy when we cannot accept sorrow as a legitimate part of ourselves and of our lives in this world. The implication in our culture is that sadness is something we should be ashamed of, something we need to get over as quickly as possible.

If you have ever been truly, deeply sad, you know how much more wounding that kind of shame brings with it. The story of Job’s friends resonates for a reason. It’s not just our culture–to some degree it’s human nature. We aren’t equipped to deal with our own grief, let alone others’. Better that we all just get over it.

But Jesus doesn’t say any of that. He doesn’t say “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall move past it.” Nor “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall grow up.” Nor “Blessed are those who mourn, for their gains are greater than their losses.”

Rather, he says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

No shame. No rebuke. No “hurry up and get past it.” Jesus validates our deep hunger to be comforted. To just be held and loved on. To be recognized as people who have truly lost something and truly suffer from it.

The Isolation of Grief

For this reason, and because sorrow is so deep and so particular to every one of us, when we grieve we grieve alone. Even those with the unusual blessing of a strong and loving community will always encounter aloneness in the center of mourning. Personal grief isolates and alienates.

Even in English “they shall be comforted” is a beautiful promise, but in Greek it becomes even more wonderful. Because the literal meaning of the Greek word is “to come alongside.”

Literally, the blessing of Jesus is that those who mourn will find God drawing alongside them. That in the center of their greatest alienation and suffering, they will find the Lord God who loves them to be very, very near. And he comes not as a Job’s friend with a lesson to teach. He comes just to sit with us and let us cry.

In that is deep healing. Perhaps deeper than we know.

The One Who Is Near

Jesus’s words echo some of the most beautiful of the Old Testament promises of the Messiah:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me,
because the LORD has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal [lit. to “bind up”–to bandage, to tend the wounds of]
the brokenhearted . . .
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vegeance;
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes
instead of despair.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Heaven Now

In proclaiming “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” as one of the eight kingdom blessings, Jesus deliberately proclaims himself as Messiah–as the king who comes to fulfill Isaiah 61. The year of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it the One who comes to comfort those who mourn.

These are promises that are true on a deeply personal level. The promise is to the individual who mourns. They are also true on a cosmic level. Jesus has come into a world reeling with loss, drawn alongside it, and offered comfort and companionship.

The healing of the world is in his name “Emmanuel”: God with us.

Mindful of Revelation’s ultimate promises that in the new heaven and new earth every tear will be wiped away and “sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” we have a tendency to put the Beatitudes off till the afterlife: “Blessed are those who mourn,” we say, “for when they die and go to heaven they will be comforted.”

But that misses the whole context of Jesus’s blessings. He is announcing the kingdom of heaven. He announced it two thousand years ago, and he ascended to the throne just forty days after his resurrection. The kingdom of heaven is now, and the kingdom blessings are for us now, not at some future date.

If you mourn, then, blessed are you, for the King of Kings sees, knows, and has promised to come alongside you–quietly at first, simply to comfort, but with healing and gladness in his wings.

(This is Part 23 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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2 responses to “Happy Are the Wrecked, for God Will Draw Near to Them”

  1. Terry Claxton Avatar
    Terry Claxton

    Thank you for this reminder of His Word…..it has been a rough year and a half for me. I lost my husband to cancer, two months after that my daughter in law gets mad at me and won’t let me see my grandchildren? My Son is going along with it to keep the peace at home. I have only seen them one time in almost two years. Now, I am going to have to sell the home my husband and I shared. It is a bit overwhelming at times; but God is my fortress and my strength. I will overcome!

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Terry, thank you for sharing this part of your heart and life. I pray that you will know the Lord drawing near to you!

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