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Jesus takes our suffering seriously

iStock/Anastasiia Stiahailo
iStock/Anastasiia Stiahailo

It is not hard to see the hard in life. Just a quick scan of your texts or newsfeed shows how broken life is. As we sit with the brokenness, death, and suffering we see around us, we can learn how to respond to difficulties from Jesus who took our mourning seriously.

When recording the Beatitudes, Matthew translated Jesus’s Aramaic word for “mourning” into the strongest Greek equivalent possible. The image is of one who endures the loss of that which is most dear.

Death stings each of us with loss and drags from us profound memories. Mourning is an almost paralyzing, life-numbing form of grief. But when we delve further into the second beatitude, we see that death is not the only cause of the mourning Jesus speaks about. The mourning He refers to can also emerge from the general suffering of the world — from the plight of those who are victims of injustice and despair and from our personal sense of loss that comes as a result of bad life decisions and mistakes. With one simple statement, Jesus broadens the picture of mourning from vivid scenes of a tomb to the consequences of life’s poorest choices or direst circumstances. It is a view of grief that touches us all, regardless of our social stature or lifestyle. Each one of us has, at one point or another, lost someone or something in a way that causes our lives to be less than whole.

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But with such an expression of mourning comes an equally powerful view of God’s comfort.  Jesus approaches the vulnerability of life honestly and gives us a glimpse of why loving and living, even with the prospect of such pain, offer real comfort. And this is not a cheap comfort. It is unconditional love, the source of life’s deepest emotions.

Jesus encourages us to love with real openness and honesty, but such love also brings great vulnerability. By loving and living in a way that we mourn deeply, we open ourselves up to incredible heartache, trouble, and hurt. But! We also draw closer to Jesus, and, with Him, there is potential for great joy because Jesus has overcome the world.

In other words, the risk of grief or mourning can be overwhelming. It is not easy to love people to the point where we mourn over hardship and loss. But, through it, God promises life-changing joy if we are willing to take the chance.

A life that risks love to the point of real vulnerability shifts the world’s expectations about love. By risking our own grief, we see the possibility of genuine relationship and community, of sincere faith and spiritual connection — as God intended from the beginning.

We should not miss the declarative tone of Jesus’s second blessing: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Certainly, Jesus affirms the presence of mourning in this world, and the risk of love that often leads to such emotions, but equally affirming is the promise of spectacular comfort born from the heart of God. God calls us to risk ourselves not for the mere possibility of comfort, but in the certainty of it.

We see this truth time and again as Jesus participates in the mourning of this world, whether in the death of a friend (Lazarus; see John 11:1–44) or in His grief over a people’s discontent (weeping over Jerusalem; see, for example, Matthew 23:37–38). It is even present in Jesus’s discourse about His own suffering and death. In Matthew 9:15 and John 16:16–22, He teaches His disciples about suffering from a very personal perspective, referring to a time when He will no longer be with them. Jesus promises, however, that their mourning will turn to comfort — an unimaginable joy that the world will not understand.

When we opt for a safer or easier path — one that offers little risk or a quick fix — we cannot and will not experience this kind of comfort and joy. You see, the easy road sets up a false sense of security. You may think you can prevent the risk of grief by refusing to love completely, but such a path results in more profound grief: the grief of loneliness and unfulfillment.

The joy that Jesus speaks of is born only from the risk of possibly losing it or missing it altogether. Jesus calls us to see the path of mourning and to courageously walk down it.

Dr. Shane Stanford is President/CEO of The Moore-West Center for Applied Theology and JourneyWise. Stanford served as a pastor and church planter for more than thirty years. He is the author of several books, including JourneyWise and a contributor for the new Life Along the Way yearlong devotional series. Shane Stanford’s memoir, A Positive Life, details his experiences as an HIV+ and HepC+ hemophiliac, husband, father, and pastor. Shane Stanford is married to Dr. Pokey Stanford, and they have three adult daughters and two sons-in-law. www.JourneyWise.Network IG: DrShaneStanford

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