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Good Grief

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Several years ago Barbara Walters interviewed General Norman Schwartzkopf, one time commander of Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. When asked about the cost of the war in terms of human life the general began to cry. Walters rather bluntly inquired, "General, aren't you afraid to cry...?"  To which the general replied, "Barbara, I'm afraid of a man who can't cry!"

Here is a soldier who’s been trained to be tough, a man who’s seen more death and destruction than most of us will ever see and yet he doesn’t apologize for his tears. I’m afraid of a man who can’t cry.

Many of us aren’t so much afraid of tears as we are ashamed of tears. We apologize for laughter, or anger, or even apathy, but when tears come, we run looking to hide so nobody sees us. We are ashamed of our tears.

Maybe it’s because of the steady stream of messages we get: stop crying, shake it off, only babies cry, big boys/girls don’t cry. Only the weak weep they tell us, and they’re right. Crying makes us feel vulnerable, cut off and alone.  As the poet Ella Wilcox wrote;

Laugh and the world laughs with you/Weep, and you weep alone.

I’m really not sure why we’re ashamed to cry, but one thing I am sure of---it’s not healthy to stifle tears. I believe one of the secret pathways to happiness is having a heart that stays tender enough for tears. I believe grief can be good because Jesus Christ told us it is so. This morning I want to explore how maybe this morning the best thing for you to do is to have a good cry. Read with me in Matt. 5:4.


            Blessed are those who mourn…

            Happy are the heartbroken. Glad are the grieving. Lucky are the lamenters.

            No matter how you spin it, it doesn’t quite sound right, does it? Add to this the fact the word for mourn here is the strongest word in the Greek language for grieving and you could get a headache from scratching your head so hard. How can Jesus connect sadness & happiness?

            To begin with, let’s be clear: Jesus is not spouting nonsense. He isn’t telling us that the only way to be happy is to be miserable, nor is He hinting that He likes to see us hurting. He’s not saying blessed are the miserable, the melancholy, the gloomy, the depressed.

            What He’s saying is that there are times when grief can be good, when sadness can be the only path to real happiness. Let me offer you a few examples of what I mean.  

First of all, it’s good for us to grieve over our sins.

            2 Co 7:10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

            This verse mentions 2 types of grief—godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world. Godly sorrow=God’s kind of sorrow.  It’s when we grieve over our sins the way God grieves over our sins. This kind of sorrow is the beginning of true repentance.

            How does God see our sins? God sees our sin as an offense to His holiness, a violation of His purpose, a destructive force that causes suffering and death. It is sin—your sin, my sin—that is the root cause of all the evil and pain in this world. It is sin—your sin, my sin—that made it necessary for Christ to suffer and die on the Cross. Sin grieves God to His heart, and we begin to repent only when sin grieves our hearts the way it does His.

            This is why some people never come to Christ. This is why some Christians never make much progress in holiness. We’re sorry we got caught, sorry for being punished, but that’s not godly sorrow, but worldly sorrow, and it won’t produce repentance. If you and I really see how much our sin grieves His heart, how much it hurts us and the people around us, our lives would be changed forever.

A Sunday school teacher once asked a class what was meant by the word “repentance.” A little boy put up his hand and said, “It is being sorry for your sins.” A little girl also raised her hand and said, “Please, it is being sorry enough to quit.”—Donald Grey Barnhouse [i]

            Blessed are those who are sorry enough over their sins to quit.

            Secondly it’s good to grieve over what sin is doing to the world around us. The Bible tells us God sees everything. How do you think seeing everything makes Him feel?  

            Ge 6:5-6 5Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

Jesus grieved at how sin alienated Him from the people He came to save.

Lk 19:41-42 41Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

            Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, not just because His friend was dead, but because of all the people who’ve ever died. He still weeps with for all the hurting and hungry, the sick and suffering, the despairing and dying. If God grieved over the world in Noah’s day, how much more do you think He grieves over a world today even full of violence and abuse, war and famine, evil and injustice? His grief is not evil, but good, and His grief moved Him to action.

            But let me ask you: where are our tears for a lost and dying world?


Where are our tears for people who reject Christ? How much do we grieve over millions of souls who leave this world for an eternity in hell? Where is our mourning over the broken heart of our Lord? How many of us weep over abused, neglected starving children? (Let’s just change the channel.) How many of us cry out as the psalmist did in

Ps 119:136 Rivers of water run down from my eyes, Because men do not keep Your law.

We can hear about thousands of people dying halfway around the world and it hardly registers. Pictures plastered all over magazines tell us about gay celebrities getting “married” and it doesn’t really bother us much. Women and children are molested, men die fighting overseas---all of this barely registers on our emotional radar.

            Until grief hits us personally.

            Pain in our bodies, pain in our hearts---relationships falling apart---sickness and age stealing our health---death that separates us from our loved ones, leaving us heartbroken, full of questions we cannot answer, scars that never fully heal. As hard as we try to outrun sadness, it has a way of catching up to us.

            What we often fail to realize is that grief even in these circumstances is good for us. I always worry about people who lose a loved one and never shed tears, never show any emotion. My pastoral training tells me it’s very unhealthy not to mourn our losses, that until a person truly grieves, there can be no healing. 

The point is not that we all ought to try to shoulder the weight of the world, or that somehow if we aren’t all crying our eyes out something is wrong. The point is that in this fallen world, we cannot afford to harden our hearts and try to dry all the tears. It’s not only OK, it is healthy to grieve, it is good to grieve because it means our hearts are still tender enough for tears.

Tears are the material out of which heaven weaves its brightest rainbow. —F. B. Meyer, Abraham [ii]

Grief is not good to you, but grief is often good for you. Blessed are those who grieve with God over the things that break His heart.

But Jesus finishes out this beatitude by giving us a precious promise about those who grieve with God- Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.

On his way to Sunday school, a little boy told his mother "I think I'll be sad today." "Why," the mother asked. "Because when you're sad about something, the teachers all take turns hugging you."

David Guzik writes in his commentary on this verse:

God allows…grief into our lives as a path, not as a destination.[iii]

Grief is not good in itself, but it becomes good when it leads us down the path to find comfort in the arms of the Lord. Grief is the path; comfort is the destination.

For example, the grief we have over our sin is meant to lead us to repentance.

2 Co 7:10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation…

 Godly grief can lead us to turn away from ourselves and our sins and turn to Christ and salvation. . We change our mind about our sins, and it leads us to change our behavior, to turn from sin and turn to Christ and righteousness. Our lives are changed for the better—for eternity---all because of this good grief.

But what about grieving over this old sinful world? You could sum up the comfort Jesus offers us with one word: hope. Lots of peoples’ lives are fueled by wishful thinking. Things are bound to get better. But how can you know that for sure?

            Somebody once told me, “Cheer up, things could be worse.” I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse. [iv]

            There is more to hope than just wishful thinking. Hope needs a foundation, an anchor to keep us afloat in a sea of despair. Without a solid hope any comfort for our grief is just wishful thinking. Yet Jesus sounds so sure and certain: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. How can He be so sure? What is our anchor of hope?

            Our anchor for hope is the Word of God. Throughout the Bible God sprinkles promises of hope for this broken world.

Is 65:17 For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.

2 Pe 3:13 …we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Re 21:1, 4 1Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… 4And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

            This is the hope of all Christians, the anchor that gives us assurance this world will not always be like it is now. We can look at the horrors around us, do what we can to change it, but we know in the end, God will transform this sinful, suffering world into the paradise He created it to be. Our comfort is the hope we have in God’s promise of a new world.  

Grief is the path; comfort is the destination.

The story is told that 2 men joined the Salvation Army and went out to a faraway place to minister to the people there. They did all they know to do to minister there, but nothing seemed to work. So they sent a telegram to General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army asking him what he would suggest they do. His reply came back with two words: TRY TEARS.

     I want to borrow General Booth’s words as my invitation to you this morning. Try tears.

            Not crocodile tears, not tears you work up, but tears that come when you ask Jesus to make your heart tender.

Ask Him to help you see your sin as horrible, offensive, destructive as God sees it. You cannot repent until you realize that sin is not just a fender bender, but a deadly crash, not just a delicious drink but deadly poison, not just a misdemeanor, but a crime in the first degree before God. Ask God to help you see your sins the way He does, and you will find the comfort of repentance, forgiveness, and a new life.

This morning He is looking for somebody to share His heart with, someone who will share His grief over a world full of lost, lonely, hurting people. He is looking for those whose tears will translate into action, into heartfelt prayer, into doing something to be Jesus’ hands and feet to bring comfort to hurting people. Maybe there is somebody specific this morning that God has laid on your heart to pray for, to weep over, until they find comfort in Christ.

There are some things worth our tears.

In Lou Holtz’ second season as head football coach of the Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish experienced a humiliating loss against Texas A & M at the cotton bowl. Holtz slunk into the locker room shaken and depressed, but his blood pressure rose as he noticed that most of his players didn’t seem very distraught.

The only exception was a second-string sub named Chris Zorich who was sitting in front of his locker sobbing. Holtz decided just then that next year’s team would be composed of players who loved football as much as Zorich.

The next season this young man went from sub to starter to team captain and helped the Fighting Irish win a national championship.

Chris Zorich won the spot on the starting team because of his tears, for some things are worth crying over.

I invite you this morning to try tears, so you can claim the promises of God.

Ps 126:5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.


[i] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations

[ii]Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories, electronic ed., Logos Library System;

[iii] David Guzik, The Enduring Word Commentary Series (Mat-Acts) (Joseph Kreifels), Mt 5:4.

[iv]David Roper, The Law That Sets You Free Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories

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