Aldous Huxley, in his book Brave New World, describes a drink called Soma. It is a drug given to the people by the government. One realizes quickly that this drug represents a way to escape pain, discomfort, embarrassment, sadness, or anger and to enhance joy, arousal, and an overall sense of well being. It is escapism in its purest form — “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.” Huxley intended to write a dystopian novel. However, the world in which we live is often more dystopian than we would care to admit. We do not have a legalized, governmentally-provided drug that numbs every vexatious feeling. Instead, we have alcohol, porn, social media, movies, work, recreation, hobbies, and smartphones. Many of these are not intrinsically evil — some are. However, we live in a world that allows us to jump from distraction to distraction without ever considering that eternal matters hang in the balance. We are like foolish children staring at our feet as we walk along the Grand Canyon — distracted by a crack when God’s handiwork is no more than a glance away.
If we are to live in a way that pleases God, we must learn to look up from the cracks and think honestly about ourselves. We must learn to see ourselves in light of reality — in light of God’s holiness. When we begin to understand God’s holiness, our sin, in contrast, looks grievous. Mourning is the appropriate response to sin, but we must learn to mourn with movement.
The idea of mourning can be traced throughout the entire story of the Bible. Most of the time, mourning occurs in response to the death of a king, prophet, or family member. However, there are a few times when mourning is in response to sin.
Not long after God freed the nation of Israel from bondage in Egypt, he lead them to Mt. Sinai. There, Moses spoke with the LORD and received the 10 Commandments. Yet while Moses was busy speaking to God, Israel was busy constructing a false god. In mercy, God remained faithful to his promise and told the nation to depart and go to the Promised Land but because of their sin he said, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” The response of the people was not surprising. “When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.”
Not long after, the people arrived at the land God promised to give them but were afraid to go in because of a bad report from ten spies. As a result, the Lord disciplined the people by banishing them to the wilderness for forty years. “And the men Moses sent to scout out the land, and who returned and incited the entire community to complain about him by spreading a negative report about the land — those men who spread the negative report about the land were struck down by the Lord. Only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh remained alive of those men who went to scout out the land.” Again the people responded as we might expect. “When Moses told these words to all the people of Israel, the people mourned greatly.” Unfortunately, this cycle was repeated over and over by the nation of Israel. Throughout the Bible, we see that mourning cannot be an end to itself. Mourning must have movement toward confession and repentance. An excellent example of this is found in the book of Ezra.
While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath. Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. (Ezra 10:1-6)
And Ezra, the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. (Ezra 10:10-12)
Notice that Ezra came before the Lord and confesses the sin of the people. He identifies that the people had acted in sin, and he agrees with God about the nation’s sin. Then he retreats to a chamber where he spends the night mourning over the sin. However, Ezra doesn’t stop there. The following day he stands before the people and calls them to confess their sin, repent, and follow the Lord. The assembly responds in agreement and commits to following through. Their mourning had movement towards confession and repentance. The same should be true of us today.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
True mourning is not primarily seen in external grief or tears. It is made evident by the movement that takes place after mourning is done. If you and I are genuinely grieved by our sin, we will make tangible changes to remove it from our lives. Biblical mourning has movement, namely confession, and repentance.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank my friends Joey Freeland and Josh Smith for offering helpful feedback on this article. If you were helped by something you read, please share it with your sphere of influence. Thanks!