September 4, 1991
The American constitution and even television commercials declare we have the “right” to be happy. In fact, the pursuit of happiness occupies a major portion of the typical North American’s life, so much so that when someone is sad, someone else usually insists they “Cheer up.”
Imagine the reaction if a sad person responded to encouragement with: “NO! I have every right to be sad. In fact, being sad is good for me...” Would we put him in a strait jacket?
The truth is, some sorrow has a valuable place in our lives. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh... (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and sorrow is sometimes appropriate. The Bible says to “... mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15) and Jesus Himself even experienced that kind of sorrow. Certainly anyone who jokes and laughs at a funeral is out of place.
Beyond being an expression of human grief, the Bible says sorrow has spiritual value: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because by it the heart is made better” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). This means a kind of sorrow that feels grief over sin, and thus our attitude toward sinning is changed.
Jesus referred to this heart-changing sorrow when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The Bible explains this “mourning” as a sadness for one’s own sin: “Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended... Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: ...earnestness, ...eagerness to clear yourselves, ...indignation, ...alarm, ...longing, ...concern, ...readiness to see justice done...” (2 Corinthians 7).
Again, this kind of sorrow is the grief some people feel when they have sinned against God. It is so important to God that He says if we don’t feel that way about our sin, we should make an effort to do so: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom...” (James 4:9).
One reason this kind of sorrow is so important is that grief over sin is the only way to ultimate joy. When Jesus said that mourners will be comforted, He was not talking about ordinary grief over a death in the family (Many who grieve are not comforted) but preaching a sermon about the characteristics of those who will be children of God. He said they will be “poor in spirit,” not having what it takes to please God, mourning over their sin, submissive to Him, and having a hunger and thirst for a godly righteousness which they realize they do not have (Matthew 5,6,7). The Greek word Jesus used for “mourn” signifies the greatest grief imaginable, an utter sense of loss and sorrow because the mourner has realized his utter bankruptcy. He cannot please God... but it is that person who will be comforted, by forgiveness now and a heavenly reward eventually.
What if a person rejects that kind of sorrow? What if they insist they are okay; sin is not an issue to get dejected about; they have a right to be happy and life is here and now only, a party to be lived?
First, nothing happens to their heart. It stays in the same condition as described by Jeremiah: “deceitful and desperately wicked.” Secondly, they never receive the comfort of forgiveness. They will be separated forever from the love God offered through the sacrifice of His Son. Thirdly, a heavenly reward is out of the question. Eternal condemnation is the only other option.
So the next time someone says “Cheer up,” try this: “No, my sorrow is helping me to think about the way I live, change my ways and stop doing all the things that are not good for me...!”