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The Beatitudes: Sympathy, Empathy and Sin-pathy…

September 4, 2011

The Necessity of Christian Mourning

How should a Christian mourn? So much is discussed today about the pursuit of joy and comfort in the Christian life. Books are written about it, sermons are preached and conferences are held all for the purpose of planning out the path to true Christian joy and comfort. So much of what is written and too much of what is preached is based on a “defective doctrine of sin and a shallow idea of joy;” and they produce what Martin Lloyd-Jones called, “a very superficial person and a very inadequate kind of Christian life.”

Jesus gives us instruction displayed both in His teaching and His life that point toward comfort and joy. And the path he recommends is one of poor spirit, that simultaneously mourns in the present and finds comfort in the future. Jesus is our guide, He is our model. To be a Christian by definition is to be ‘like-Christ’. Christ mourned over one thing, sin; sins’ effects on His Father’s world, and His Father’s children. Again Lloyd-Jones describes it this way:

He mourns because He has some understanding of what sin means to God, of God’s hatred of it, this terrible thing that would stab, as it were, into the heart of God, if it could, this rebellious and arrogance of man, the result of listening to Satan. It grieves Him and He mourns because of it.

So in that vein, what models of mourning does Christ put forth. There are three that merit our attention; Sympathy, Empathy, and Sin-Pathy.

Sympathy: Mourning for others. This is mourning for the sins of the world. Seeing the suffering of others in sin and mourning for the loss of what might have been. Jesus crests the hill and beholds the Zion, Jerusalem the city of God’s chosen and cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you would not have it.” Here Jesus sees the sin of others and mourns their rebellion, wishing for renewal and that it had been another way. This is sympathy, grieving for others and having a broken heart for others.

Empathy: Mourning with others. This is grief that you feel. Others are hurting, sin has taken its toll and you not only recognize it but you feel the emotions they’re experiencing. Jesus is informed of the death of His friend and the brother of His follower Mary; he arrives at the tomb, confident of the impending resurrection, but broken for the sorrow experienced through the pain of loss. John records with passionate simplicity that, “Jesus wept.” This is empathy, amidst the confidence of God’s sovereignty, and the promise of resurrection we still feel the pain of others and are broken over the loss inflicted by sin, so we mourn.

Sin-Pathy: Mourning sin in ourselves. This is necessary brokenness over our own sin. Lloyd-Jones describes it his way, “I must mourn about the fact that I am like that… A man who truly faces himself and examines himself… is a man who must of necessity mourn for his sins…” This mourning is personal, and comes about only when the light of the cross permeates the darkness of our sin-filled souls. This is a poor spirit, devoid of pride and in recognition of his true state before God, as one in need of redemption. Jesus while tempted, had no sin in Himself, but He rather took our sin upon himself. And in that moment uttered the lament of one encased in sins grasp, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” When we’re in sin we’re apart from God, forsaken and alone, assigned with the task bearing sins blunt sorrow. But praise be to God that in Christ that task, “is finished.”

The comfort we seek can only be found in sin-pathy. Brokenness over our own sin, and the renewal promised through the finished work of the cross. We face the difficult world, full of sin and its effects, knowing that there is blessing even in mourning, and that in mourning we shall be comforted. “That is the man who mourns, that is the Christian.”

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