Britain’s war years sponsored a frontline favourite song that was eventually adopted by the world system – “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” Hide your problems and pretend to be happy. Look at the positives, ignore the negatives and so make it buoyantly through life. Don’t be sad, try never to be too serious, and only mourn if you have to. Unfortunately the same philosophy is often applied to sin. Gloss over it and it’ll be okay!
The structure of most societies — whether primitive or sophisticated, wealthy or the poor, educated or uneducated — is based on the seemingly incontrovertible principle that the way to happiness is having things go your own way. Throughout history a basic proverb of the world has been that favourable things bring happiness, whereas adverse things bring unhappiness. This belief seems so self-evident that most people would not bother to debate it. Yet, Christ’s teaching reinforces the fact that godly mourning brings godly happiness, which no amount of human effort or optimistic pretence can produce.
In the routine of day-by-day living, the idea of mourning to get happiness seems absurd, but Jesus confirms this dictum. The epitome of His teaching is paradoxical, what he promises for what he says, seems inappropriate and certainly upside down in the eyes of the natural man. The assumed inconsistency of the second Biblical beatitude seems obvious. What could be more self-contradictory than the idea that the path to happiness is through sadness and that the way to rejoicing is in mourning? “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” How can I be happy when the chances are against me?
When we face great sorrow, disappointment, disillusionment, tragedy, or failure, we wish that we could escape them as we do a thunderstorm by running inside. But comfort from the troubles of life is much harder to find than that. The deeper the sorrow the worse the despair and the more elusive comfort seems to be. Avoiding pain, trouble, frustration, hardships, and other problems, in the estimation of many, will bring happiness.
The modern Christian, who understands and lives the spiritual significance of Christ’s specific words, fights against a false sense of assumed piety, which gives the impression that to be religious is to be miserable – how sad and weird! There is also the co-joined error that to attract people we must be deliberately upbeat and jolly. But, it is this apparent superficiality and slickness
that works against us because it is illusory. Perhaps that is the reason the church makes little impression because in the current climate of spirituality everything must be kept at a level that fails to produce serious concern over real issues.
The love of God is offered as the answer. He is depicted as one who would never harm us in any way, and that is true. It is thought therefore that everything should work for our benefit, and so is does, but not in the way we think. As an Arab proverb says: “All sunshine makes a desert,” for there are certain things that only rain will produce; otherwise the land becomes arid and dry.
The real meaning of what Jesus is saying is this: “Blessed [happy] is that person who is poor in spirit who is desperately sorry for their own sin and their own unworthiness.” That is the meaning of Biblical mourning, and the comfort that comes from that tearful confession is that the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding . . . [will] guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). As another interpretation says: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.2(Matthew 5:4). God helps us lose things that are counterproductive to our spiritual ascent, so that His love-grip is not affected by extraneous things.
 For ‘beatitude’ read blessedness or happiness.
2 The Message by Eugene Peterson