At first glance, this beatitude seems almost a contradiction (‘happy are they that mourn’). Nevertheless, to have the kind of mourning that is specified here is indeed to be blessed. It is blessed because this is a God-given mourning and because the spiritual mourner receives God-given comfort.
The word for mourn that Jesus uses here is a very strong word; it is the term that was normally associated with grieving for loss of loved ones. So Jesus is not describing a shallow response to the causes of spiritual mourning. Nor is Jesus referring to a short time of mourning, as if it was an attitude that was experienced occasionally; in the beatitudes he is detailing features that are to be continually present in the outlook of his people.
Jesus does not mean that Christians should be morose, always marked by a long face and negative responses to pleasure. Nor is it a kind of self-pity that permanently feels sorry for oneself. Further, this spiritual mourning is to be distinguished from natural regret, which occurs, for example, when a person fails to achieve a particular goal. And it is not the same as remorse, which many a person can have because of wrong actions.
Why do Christians mourn?
Here are a few reasons. One is the presence of personal sin in their hearts. A second is the many problems within Christ’s church. Third, there is the complex nature of the trials God sends their way in providence. Fourth, there is the sinfulness of society, in which God is dishonoured and his requirements ignored. Fifth, there is within Christians a longing for the perfection of heaven and they sigh for that great day.
Perhaps the most profound experience of spiritual mourning occurs when they contrast themselves with God’s perfection. Isaiah experienced this during a time of worship (Isa. 6). Peter also experienced it after he observed one of the miracles of Jesus (Luke 5:8). Both Isaiah and Peter saw the beauty and power of God and realised that they were sinful in comparison.
How are they comforted?
There are several ways by which God brings comfort to his people. One is to remind them of the great and precious promises he has given to them. A second is by giving a sense of his presence at different times. A third way comes through other Christians. And a fourth method is for him to show them their prospects – the day will soon come when God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and they shall find themselves in the country where ‘there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’ (Rev. 21:4).